Monday, March 24, 2014

50k in March? Too optimistic?

So I had heard of the JC Stone 50k for a few years.  A friend of mine, and my personal running guru, James Lombardi, had tried to entice me to run it for the past few years.  He told me it was a nice course, and since it was a loop, you could visit your family/friends on each loop to check in.

Winter training has been sluggish for me since I started running.  I usually to a big race in the fall, recover from that for a few weeks, then get amped up for cold weather training.  I get all amped up and do ok in November and December, but tend to bonk out during the holidays.

This year was not much different.  I started December strong with a hill repeat challenge, and did that, with my legs feeling good - but towards the end of the month, my mileage dropped, and the season of baked goods started... January, I stepped it back up, getting outside as much as I could, even in the cold, then a friend of mine, Kim, wanted me to help her with running, so I got a new running partner once a week, and the Jims started doing speedwork on Tuesdays, which helped even more.

I never felt great about not getting any really "long" runs in, but I was doing 30ish miles a week, and feeling pretty good, as well as doing some hiking and strengthening my legs.  I signed up for a bunch of races.

Then Jim Lombardi once again mentioned how he might do the JC Stone 50k, and then my friend Alisha said she had signed up for it.  I found the website, and BAM - signed up for a March 22nd 50k.  It'll be a good long run, I thought.  It'll be good training, I thought.

---

I live in northwestern Pennsylvania, about 2 hours north of the park where the race would take place, North Park.  I decided to crash at Alisha's house, only an hour away, and we'd drive together.

We got up early, and having had some stomach issues or a stomach bug earlier in the week, I opted just for peanut butter toast and coffee and water.  I can't really explain how I felt that morning... not really sick, not weak, just not normal or grounded like I usually feel on a race morning.  I wasn't nervous, just not feeling quite well.  I grabbed a banana for the road, and we headed off.

I drove down to the park, we parked right at the first turn that we would loop around the parking lot, so the car would make an easily accessible aid station, and picked up our bib numbers and shirts (which are awesome).  It was drizzling on the drive, but the clouds were clearing, the sun was coming out, and it was brisk, but not freezing out. We greeted a few of our running friends from the area, it was good to see familiar faces, as always.  We stayed in the warm boathouse until 15 minutes before race time, made one last stop at the facilities, then headed to the start line.


Sunrise at the race start.

We started with a one mile loop, then headed out on the first of six five mile loops.  I was feeling sluggish, but I always feel that way starting out.  I hoped to warm up after a mile or two.  Alisha and I planned to stick together and average a pace between 10-11 minute miles.  We did pretty awesome.  We chatted and went along steady, but I was feeling concerned after the first 5 miles, when I didn't really feel warmed up.  I wasn't hurting, it was just hard to catch my breath up some of the hills, but I pushed on, grabbing gels and pretzels and gatorade at aid stations.  I decided with the cool temps, the wind, and the closeness of the aid stations (every 2.5 miles), that I could ditch my handheld and just drink at the Aid Stations, which might have been part of my trouble later in the race, but who can say.


Heading out on the first 5 mile loop.

By about 10 miles in, I was feeling better and a bit into my groove.  The paved loop wasn't very exciting, but Alisha and I talked, people-watched, and commented about all the doggies along the course. There were a ton of people out around the park that day, walking and running dogs, running in preparation for the Pittsburgh Marathon, biking, playing tennis.  It was hard to be bored, and we looked forward to brief stops at the Aid Stations.

By lap 5, I was feeling not so great, but I knew if I kept running, and didn't stop to walk, it would be really good for my upcoming marathon in May.  I got in 26 miles in around 4:49, which I think I have time to improve on slightly, especially if I'm feeling better.

Near the end of the 5th loop, I told Alisha I was going to have to do a bit of walking soon, and I urged her to go.  She gave me a hug, wished me luck, and was off.  I was relieved not to hold her back and was able to walk some.  I felt like I walked a ton on that last lap, but looking at my splits, my walking lap was only around 10 minutes slower than my running lap, so I kept pushing, and mostly walked the uphills to catch my breath.  I came down the last hill and around the parking lot, and could hear some of my running circle friends cheering for me.  My shoe came untied in that last 100 yards, but I was not stopping to tie it. I came across the line, really glad to be finished.  I finished in 5:53:18.

Glad to be at the finish!

As difficult time as I had with this race, physically (Mentally, I never felt bad), I'm really glad I pushed through.  This was my first road race over a half marathon, the rest have been on trails, and I don't think I took into account the difference of what the roads feel like on one's body.  I wish I hadn't been sick a few days before, but again, it's a learning experience.

I think one of the best things about this day, besides getting to spend some nice time with my friend Alisha, was being in North Park.  My parents and grandparents are from Pittsburgh, and I remember many a summer coming to North Park with my Pap and seeing the deer, or having some kind of family picnic at the pavilions, or even more recently, having been to a cousin's wedding and remember my little guy playing on a playground when he was barely walking.  It was a good day.

Yesterday, the day after, I was sore, and still feeling really off.  I had dropped 5 pounds through the day, so I don't know that I will relinquish my hand-held next time.  I needed to drink more during, which may have helped me during those last 2 laps, and I didn't drink enough after I finished.  After taking it easy yesterday, drinking a lot and eating moderately, I'm feeling much better the second day, and even my soreness is mostly limited to up and down the stairs.

I'm ready to run again, and really, to get back to the trails, my true running love.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mega Running? Ultra Jogging? Ultra... brain loss?

When last we heard from our protagonist, she had just finished a 100 mile race, and was suffering a bit of post-100-depression, wondering what was next, what the meaning of life was, etc.

Then she remembered she had signed up for this Mega-Transect thing that she had heard lots of... interesting things about from various friends and acquaintances, running buddies and hiking buddies.

Had she heard of the gnarly-ness?  The boulder field?  The proclivity of rattlesnakes in the area?  Broken bones?  Gruesome uphills?  Devastating downhills?  Oh sure.  But she had run a 100 miler.  She was a veteran of the Oil Creek trail races and the Allegheny North Country Trail Challenge.  How hard could it be?

Pride before a (thankfully not literal) fall.   This event, this place... is beyond expression really.  But I'm going to try.



Friday evening near sunset - That little grey dot in the middle is the boulder field.  Not intimidating at that distance.



I left Meadville just a bit after lunch, and met my friends Rich and Alisha at their home in Mercer, PA.  We threw camping gear in their CRV and hit the road.  The trip was fun, chatting about their recent trip to Utah, my recent 100 miler, and them giving me a few hints and tips about the Mega.  As we went further east along 80, the fall foliage was really showing bright reds and oranges and yellows.  It was a beautiful drive.

We got into Lock Haven around 5:00, and set up camp.  We also met a new friend who was acquainted with Rich, and Rico was an awesome guy.

Now, though I'm an outdoorsey girl, this was the first time I had used this particular tent.  I haven't camped before a race before, and the few days before the Mega had me antsy if I should drive my own car and just sleep in the back, or if I should camp.  The weather looked like it would be perfect, and I was tired of being a wuss with the camping, so I packed enthusiastically for "roughing" it, though there were showered and port-a-johns and real bathrooms at the Mega Start/Finish, so roughing it was not so rough.



Home Sweet Tent

So I set up my tent, organized my gear, and we picked up our packets.  Part of the race packet was a map of the course, and a really nice half-zip hoodless sweatshirt.  Rich and Alisha bought me a Mega bumper sticker for my Ultra-mobile, and we grabbed a bit of a snack and visited with a few people before heading off for dinner.


Really nice campsite on the Castanea Fire Company Picnic grounds.  The Blue-green tent is mine.

Dinner was satisfying, and I did fairly light after my less than auspicious pasta meal before the 100.  We got back a little after dark, and the stars were bright and we visited with Rico and Jason, our camping buddies, and I crawled into the tent around 9:30.  I had been wearing shorts and flip flops around camp, and had wrapped my legs in a blanket, but icy feet kept me awake for a while, but I eventually dozed off.  I woke a few times during the night, due to unfamiliarity, but overall, similar to what I sleep before a race anyway.

Our "camp" rose groggily around 5, and I got my running basics and a jacket on, and we walked up to grab some breakfast.  The race volunteers had music going, and I was greeted David Hunter, the RD, and Brian Newcomer, a good friend who had paced me at my 100, and who I would be pacing the following weekend at the Oil Creek 100 miler.  I had a quick cup of coffee (not enough, as I would find out later), a cinnamon raisin bagel plain, and a half of a banana.  I used the facilities and headed down to the tent to finish getting ready.

I made sure I was significantly covered in body glide in all the necessary areas.  No need to learn mistakes more than once.  I made sure my shoes were laced and my gaiters were good to go, and headed out to wait with Rich and Alisha for the start at 7:00.  It was foggy and cool, the perfect weather for running, and the temp was supposed to stay below 75 for the day.  My kind of weather.

I'm not sure how many people started.  I don't have the hard numbers, but I remember registration day the website crashed as 950 slots filled in minutes.  So I'm guessing over 800 racers started, plus the family and volunteers and spectators... there was quite a crowd.  But instead of being intimidated, as I thought I'd be, I was energized.  As the RD counted down the start, we surged into the crowd of people, and it swept like a tide out the back paved road down along Bald Eagle Creek.   Alisha and Rich had talked about the bottlenecking on the trail, and that it was good to keep a brisk pace on the road, so we did.


Uphill through the foggy residential area.

We started uphill into a neighborhood where people on their lawns cheered us on.  We walked a bit as it got steeper, but I was feeling pretty good, if a bit out of breath at the pace.  I chatted with my friend from Oil Creek, Mick Quen, who was trying to catch Ken Zellars.  He pulled away from me pretty quick, and I wouldn't see him again until after we finished later in the day.

The paved road changed into a dirt road, and then made a sharp left onto a bit of rocky double track.  There was a bit of a water aid station, and I grabbed a cup and drank, but I was pretty good on liquid with my waist pack with two bottles, one gatorade and one water.  Rich, Alisha and I were sticking together, and I made some comment about how rocky the trail was.  They chuckled at me, and I wasn't sure why... I would find out... 


The woods really were beautiful... when I had a moment to pause and not be looking at my feet or feel like I was holding the person behind me up... 

The trail was rocky and technical.  I couldn't lift my eyes up, and we were climbing and climbing and climbing.  We climbed nearly 1000 feet, then dropped back down again.  The trail was crowded.  People passed, we passed some people, but mostly it was just a trot or a walk because of the rocks on the trail, or how steep the climb was.  I was still excited about a new trail, new terrain, and I kept asking how far to the boulder field.  We hit mile 6, and there it was.  I'm not sure how many amazing things I've seen in this world.  When I was hiking the North Country Trail and saw expanses of ferns; or when we visited a place in England called Beacon Hill, where the view and the weather took my breath away; when we visited Stonehenge and the weight of history and time made everything else fall away... it was the same seeing the boulder field close up, coming up on it from the woods and it stretching out above me and all these other little tiny humans who were looking for something out here on this trail...

I don't think I had words.  I bubbled over like that crazy little girl that used to climb trees and catch snakes and pick blackberries and come home with bruises and scrapes and tangled hair.  And I climbed.  Like a goat or a monkey.  With excitement and fear and exhilaration.   This was life.  This was living.  And I smiled and laughed and trembled my way up that rocky field of boulders.  I called out to the people behind me when a rock would tip a bit.  I would peer down into a crevasse to make sure I didn't see any coils, or hear any rattles, and I climbed and clambered.  I watched my feet, I watched my hands, I watched other people.  I'd stop when the rocks were stable and large and turn around and stare down where I had come from and out over the valley.  Chills.


Almost to the boulder field.


And it kept going up.


And I'd stop and look back at the fog and the hills.


And we kept climbing.


And you rounded a corner to think you were done - but there was more!





And then I was at the top, breathless from more than just climbing.


I think about two thirds of the way up, the amazement didn't really off, but I think a bit more fear worked its way in.  Maybe it was the woman who stumbled and cried out as she nearly lost her balance; maybe it was the having to wait to go forward as someone would step into the spot I wanted to move to; I think it may have been the controlled going to my knee on a rock when my foot slipped a bit.  I left a bit of blood up there on the boulder field, but I made it, winded, and waited for Alisha who was only a little way behind me. 

Rich had gone ahead, he was feeling good and we couldn't match his pace on the runnable portions anyway.  We left the boulder field and headed across Rattlesnake Ridge, a thin line of flat rocks up along the ridge line.  Then we went down the Winchester.  I think this was my least favorite bit of the trail.  Coming down on rocks that moved and bit into my light weight trail shoes (my mistake), and coming 3 weeks off the hundred, my left hip and right knee were really hurting.  We came down the decent and the rocks thinned enough to do a little running, and then we turned onto a logging road and ran a good mile a steady clip.  My hip and knee were hurting, but I was hoping to run through it and that they would loosen up.  I was also hoping for maybe a little ibuprofen at the aid station.


I think the words I uttered most here were "ow. ow. ouch. ow."

On the climb up towards the aid station, Alisha offered me some ibuprofen, and I took it.  I generally don't take pain meds during runs, but I was hoping this would at least allow me to run a bit more, and finish.  It worked in about a half hour, and I was happy.  We came into the aid station and filled up our bottles.  I had been having gels at intervals and drinking plenty, and I grabbed a pb half sandwich and a cup full of swedish fish (of course) and we were back on our way.


The forests along the trail were beautiful and varied.  I will be going back at some point to better spend some time admiring them, instead of my feet.

We worked our way to the next aid station, and again, it was some beautiful trail.  We could run quite a bit as we came down towards the McElhattan Reservoir and the aid station there.  There was a beautiful waterfall right before it, and I snapped a quick picture before continuing on.  Another place to revisit.


The Waterfall right before the reservoir.

Throughout the day we ran with many different folks at different times.  Most were very friendly and we talked about races and running and Ken Zellers was there behind me on the boulder field and said hi - he had not missed Mick, he was just behind him at the start.  A few people were a bit rude, and I noticed quite a bit of trash had been dropped on the trail.  With the amount of people out there, not everyone can be having a good day, and not everyone is going to be as careful as the next one.  I picked up a bit of trash here and there, and was careful to pack out my own things and dump them at the aid stations. 


McElhattan Reservoir


The reservoir aid station gave me a chance to use the facilities and get a bit more to eat and drink, though I'm not sure I got enough.  A couple miles into the next section, I started to feel bonky.  We crossed McElhattan Creek several times, each time with our feet more wet, until finally we just plunged through, and the cold water was refreshing on my feet.  I even lunged down to dunk my knee once to give it a very brief "ice bath."  But though the trail became more runnable, I was out of energy.  I had been eating gels and drinking plenty, but it wasn't working.

We got to a place called the Giant Steps, which were a rock formation that were very much like giant stairs.  I am a not tall person, and heaved myself up the best I could.  I was also trying to stuff more food into myself to try to shake off the feeling of weakness and sleepiness that was threatening me.  We finally pulled into the central aid station, and I asked for caffeine.  One very nice guy working the water table said that they didn't have any caffeine, but he might be able to find me some coffee from the morning.  I begged, and said I didn't care if it was cold, I just needed something.  He brought me, what I'm assuming, was his personal leftover coffee from dunkin' donuts, and even asked if I wanted cream or sugar.  I thanked him gratefully and guzzled it down black, then poured a couple of cup fulls of water over my head.  I seriously felt as good as new afterwards.  I hope that gentleman reads this and knows HOW HAPPY he made me!  Thank you thank you thank you mystery aid station man!  And we were off again - the home stretch!


More pretty forest and ferns.  They smelled so nice.  I thought of laying down in them, but I thought I might get covered in chipmunks or bears or rattlesnakes.

Less than 10 miles to go.  We were running a bit now, but we were tired and ready to be done and having food and party-type things.  We did a bit of a climb, and then were on the ridge line at Rote Overlook.  It was beautiful.  I took a couple pictures, and then we hurried along, but I'll come back here too, believe me.

Oooo!  Overlook!  Ahhh!  I wish the picture could really do it justice.

We were running as much as we could coming off of the ridge and down along another stream.  the rocks were still treacherous in places, and I had a couple of near butt falls and headlong stumbles that I caught myself from as my feet were getting tired.  With the dunking my shoes had taken and my feet not as tough from a summer not running trails, every bump against the side or top of my foot was not pleasant, and I let out many ouches and hisses.  We did a few more creek crossings to the final aid station, and didn't linger as we continued up to the last real challenge of the race.


The Raw Trail.  Or RAWR Trail.  What a final thing to throw at us.  Those crazy race board people!


Looking back down at the climb on the Raw Trail.

The Raw Trail.  It was a straight up climb.  Using trees to pull ourselves up.  My heart was pounding, and we were climbing up a dirt trail, and then it turned into a mini boulder field itself.  I was sweating and trembling and at this point, I think the novelty was almost lost on me... but not quite.  I still couldn't help smiling a little and shaking my head.  I was a little grumpy about a few people that nearly stepped on me in their rush to get ahead of me, slow chick that I am.  It was fine, but please, don't threaten my safety with your personal goal. Ok, rant over.

We made it to the top, our legs shaking and exhausted, and it was another rocky long descent to where we came back out to the double track where we had started.  We did sort of a painful sideways trot/jog down the slope until we reached the dirt road, and settled into a nice steady downhill trot, even as the dirt road turned back to pavement.  We were thrilled to be almost done.  Three miles left.

I was silly with the thought of being done, and as we reached the final real expanse of not-road, the green mile, I thought about rolling down the little grassy slope to where this grassy mile along the expressway started.  It appealed to me more than putting my knees and quads through one more downhill... but I was worried that my waist pack bottles would dig into my kidneys, so I staggered down, and we ran some, walked some until we were through.

We picked a few people off on that flat and on the road, and we came around the corner to by far the biggest crowd at an ultra that I've seen.  People screamed us in, and we sprinted to the finish.  Someone put a medal around my neck and a bottle of water in my hand, and we were done!  Success!  Brian and David gave me a hug and congratulated me.  Rich was there to give us hugs and pointed to the pizza.  Yay!  Pizza!

The finish!  Party time!!!!!!

The rest of the evening included the best bbq chicken, ever, a few hard lemonades, another half of the best bbq chicken, and soup.  The cold shower wasn't even too bad, and it was nice to be clean and non-gross.  And that pesky toenail from the 100 miler is gone.

Will I do the Mega again?  The day after is probably not the best time to ask.  I will be back in some form or another I think.  The rest of the after-race evening was filled with chatting with good racing friends, giggling hysterically about how crazy we are to do these things.

Overall, the Mega humbled me.  I knew it was going to be challenging, but I had no idea just how hard it would be.  Even with the 100 miler I just did, this was truly the most challenging thing I have done physically.  I feel pretty good coming out relatively unscathed, and just a bit sore.  All kinds of people are there to do it, and it is a really well done and amazing event.  The volunteers were amazing, the cheering crowds were wonderful, and the after party, second to none.  If you want to push yourself beyond what you think your limit is, this is definitely something you don't want to miss.  And even if I don't hike/run the course next year, I think I'll be there to enjoy some great friends and a great party.




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Three days later...

So I think I'm in a bit of a state of post-race depression.  A little of that is pain, though I think I'm recovering remarkably quickly.  I have pain in my feet, mostly, which is fading, and some swelling in my feet as well.  Crouching down requires a bit of iron will to stomach the hurt and the effort to get up again, so I'm mostly avoiding that, and besides a few other twinges, I'm doing ok.

The biggest problem is my headspace.  It's just that let down that months of anticipation leading up to a great event, and then when it's over, the vacant space can be felt.  Now most of what I'm aware of is that I can't do my work around the house very well when my feet are hurting, and when stairs are a challenge, and when bending over and picking up weight takes effort.

So I'm frustrated because my house is cluttered by the race stuff I can't move, the laundry I can't put away or do, and projects or lawn and garden work that I want to get done.

I know,  "Tiff, settle down, you just ran 100 miles!"  But my mind is more complex than that.  Reactions to my feat are luke-warm or incredulous from most people, including some family, and I'm even second guessing my own accomplishment.  I know I'll be happier soon, and that this is just exhaustion and let-down, but three days after, the sadness and feeling of loss I have is real, and I just have to take it one step at a time... just like 100 miles.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Stubborn is as stubborn does, or how I ran 100 miles.

I did it.  I ran 100 miles.  27 hours and 24 minutes.  I didn't do it alone, and I maybe didn't do it well, but I did it.

A few minutes after the finish with my pacers and crew - Brian who paced me 39ish miles, Pat who crewed and paced me 23ish miles, and Pat's wife Karen, who was awesome at crewing and who's smile and kindness just kept me pounding away until I could see them at the next aid station.


Wellsboro, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area is amazing countryside.  The town is picturesque, and so is the land, with trails and hills and the "Grand Canyon" of the state, an extremely beautiful tree lined gorge that can be biked along, kayaked through, hiked above, or, run along.  For 100 miles.  If, you know, you're one of those crazy ultra runner type folks.  Like me.

We had a 4 hour drive to the hotel near the race start.  We stopped at this really cute restaurant on the way, called "The Log Cabin."  The staff squeezed us in, since they are a small place and normally take reservations, and we ate food.  I was.. unwise in my choice of the chicken parmesan, which though was delicious, led to problems later in the evening.  I was panicking about getting to where packet pickup was in time (a precursor of my obsession with time and cutoffs, I think), but we got to the store, grabbed the packet and went to the hotel.

The hotel was great and clean, and I called Patrick and his wife, Karen, who were acting as Pacer and Crew for me, to check in.  They would be in town in about an hour, around 9, and since it was 8, I got a shower, laid out all the gear I would need for the next day, and then Pat and Karen were there.  We spent a few minutes with basic instruction, then all headed to bed.

Then I woke up at 12:30 with awful heartburn.  It was bad.  I paced a bit, tried to drink some gatorade, and I hadn't brought any tums with me.  I ended up emptying the contents of my stomach, and as a result, felt MUCH better.  I went back to sleep until the alarm went off at 4:15.


Sky is starting to brighten just before we start the race at 6:00 am on Saturday, September 7th.

Gear on, hubby had gotten me coffee, we woke the little guy who was up and bright eyed and excited to see me off.  It was chilly in the morning, but I wore arm sleeves, and no headlamp.  I figured I'd warm up pretty fast, and didn't really think I'd need the headlamp on the flat course starting out.  My stomach felt solid, but I didn't want to take any risks beyond the coffee, so after a few nibbles of a pb sandwich I had brought from home, I decided not to eat anymore.  I didn't really have heart burn from the night before, but my throat had a lingering sensation, and I wanted everything settled before I tried anything else.  And I felt good otherwise.

Oh, and the other wrench, for good or ill, was that my normal female monthly cycle had chosen Friday to arrive, but I'll just say it didn't cause me any issues on race day, and leave it at that.


Lining up for pre-race info.


My boys enduring the cold to see me off.


Jason and Eli saw me off, and the race started.  I went out easy, wearing my garmin, carrying sunblock, 2 bottles of drink on my waist pack, as well as gels, s-tabs, a couple baby wipes, and my ipod.  The day started, the race started and I felt great.


 The sun peeking out under the low morning fog.  The fields and farms along the path were beautiful.


 Now the first 20 or so miles were an out and back section that I would do twice.  I got into a nice rhythm and was enjoying the scenery.  I passed some people, some people passed me, I made some comments about the weather, and eventually ended up sticking with this nice woman named Patty for the rest of the out and back sections.  It was nice to have the company to babble back and forth to, and we picked up another young woman who stuck with us for a while, then she pulled ahead.

I still was feeling iffy about eating, so I kept hydrating and nibbled on a cookie the second pass through the first aid station.  The cookie was great (people were swearing by the spice cookies).  We cheered everyone on as we kept passing the same people a few times on the out and back.  The scenery was really beautiful with the fog lingering over the hills, and I put some sunblock on my face and arms, not wanting to risk the burn doing me in later in the day.  My stomach finally started to argue me into feeding it, so I had a gel, and about 15 minutes later, had another, and everything was great.

When I finished the first out and back section, Jason was there with Eli, and I gave him my arm sleeves.  The second time, Pat and Karen were there to see how I was doing.  It was really nice to see such friendly faces.  I grabbed some peanuts and some coke for caffeine, and went on with Patty.



Running in after 20ish miles with Patty to be greeted by Patrick and Karen.


The course opened up a little more into some wider fields and more open with the sun coming out.  The next aid station was about 4 miles, so we kept chatting, and Patty's husband rode up the course to say hi on his bike.  We had gone over 20 miles, and my legs were feeling it a bit, but otherwise, I felt great.

We reached the Aid Station at mile 25, and Patty didn't linger, as she was shooting for under 24 hours.  I had no desire to hold her back at all and am just grateful she pulled me into such a nice pace for 25 miles.  I had some food, chatted a little with Patrick and Karen, who checked to see if my bottles needed to be filled, brought me some food and more gels, and then sent me back off into the wilds.  Patrick agreed it was wise to let Patty go, as that pace would burn me out fast.  The stretch and minor rest I had at the aid station was great, and I was off in a short time.


Patty and I coming into the Darling Run Aid station at roughly mile 25.



Karen waiting patiently for me to arrive.

The next 20 miles were probably the most difficult for me, at least mentally.  I was feeling great, with minor aches that come from having run so far, but nothing that was bothering me.  I knew the next 20 miles would be lonely.  The next aid station was not crew accessible, so I wouldn't see Karen or Patrick, and then there would be another 8 or so miles until the mile 44 Aid station where I would pick up Brian, my first pacer.

I put on my headphones and started up some music.  The course was by no means lonely.  I passed lots of Amish and Mennonite folks and bikers and a couple of other runners and I kept leapfrogging each other.  I put my headphones in and listened to some music, stopped and took some pictures, and enjoyed the scenery.  I was tired, but I told myself I would run at least until mile 33, because then I would have run the entire first 3rd of the race.  Then I could walk and run the next third, which would give me a lot of walking time that last third when I would probably need it.

I was doing ok eating gels and drinking, but my bottles were getting low.  I kept peering around the next corner, wondering when the next aid station would pop up, and starting to get a little concerned.  Just as I finished the last of my water, there it was, manned by scouts.  I asked them to fill my bottles with gatorade in one, water in the other, and I ate part of a cheese sandwich.  They also had chocolate milk, which I had been drinking at the aid stations.  I also had some coke to give me a little caffeine, and as I walked out of the aid station I had some gummy bears.


Lonely, but gorgeous, views.




I walked and ran the next few miles, a little more running than walking, but not as much as before.  I was listening to some podcasts, and mentally I was ok, but I was more lonely than I had been.  Then around the corner, I see a familiar guy on a bike towing a trailer with a little kid.  Jason and Eli!  They rode with me for the last couple miles to the Aid Station, chatting about their day, cheering me on, telling me how good I looked, showing me cars.  It was the little boost I needed.  When we got close to the Blackwell Aid station at mile 44, I could see Patrick and Brian waving to me.  I gave them the good old "WOOO" and ran in.



 Coming into the Blackwell aid station.

I took a little more time at Blackwell.  I was having some chafing, so I took a few minutes to address that.  Brian and Patrick and Karen were helping me out, filling my bottles, asking what I wanted to eat.  I ate another cheese sandwich, had some more caffeine, and did a double-check on my gear.  I left my ipod and my garmin behind, and set off with Brian.  The one thing I forgot to do was to apply sunblock again, and the clouds broke away and the sky brightened.  Brian and I chatted happily, he asked how I was doing, we stopped and checked on a guy who was having some issues with food, and we saw Pat and Karen, who were exploring one of the local attractions until they met back up with us in about 8 miles at the next crew accessible aid station.



Really neat bridge near Cedar Run.

We continued on, and most of the way out of Blackwell we were being passed by 100k runners.  I was watching for a friend of mine, Roger, who was running the 100k.  I kept peering up ahead of me, and finally I recognized him and gave a loud "WHOO."  I ran up, gave him a hug, and just seeing him for a minute and encouraging each other on was great.  Part of the ultra running family I've gathered these last few wonderful years.


 
 We reached Cedar Run aid station, and Brian sat me down, filled my bottles and I think I ate a turkey and cheese sandwich. A couple of the ladies had accents, and everyone was very nice.  As we were leaving, a bunch of ladies on a porch asked what we were doing, and were astonished and not believing that I was heading for 100 miles.  I told them I'd see them on the porch when we came back if they were still awake.  (They weren't there next time around)

During most of this time, we were running a bit here and there.  My chafing hadn't gotten much better, but I was ignoring it.  My feet and legs were tired and sore, but there were no sharp pains, my knees were holding up, but I was having major pain in my right shoulder due to reaching back for my waist pack all day.  Brian was keeping me moving, and I was starting to worry about cutoffs.  We needed to be to the mile 60 aid station at Cammal by 11:30.  We were well ahead of schedule.


Coming into the Slate Run aid station.

We got to mile 55, the Slate Run aid station and Patrick and Karen were there.  Just seeing them as I was coming in was enough to speed me up and make me smile each time.  I came in, and Brian suggested I change my socks, which I did.  I also ditched my waist pack and decided just to go to a hand held.  Patrick handed me a toasted cheese sandwich, and I drank more caffeinated soda... I just can't recall what type.  I was pretty beat at this point, but happy to be halfway done.  I tried to fix my chafing issue again, and helped for the moment.  I really wanted to get to the turn around and be on my way back to the finish.  Patrick and Karen were setting off to get some food and would meet us at the next aid station at mile 60.  I told them to take their time, since we would hit that aid station twice, and I wanted to make sure they were taking care of themselves too.


A new friend running with us.

After slate run, another runner of the 100 miler joined us.  She was a very nice girl, and had her garmin set to beep every 5 minutes so she was walking 5 and running 5.  I thought this was a good strategy, so we hung with her, since she was going our pace.  She was nervous about running in the dark, so we stuck together for quite a while.  The longest she had run before this was 44 miles, and she didn't have a pacer or crew, so Brian and I helped her out as much as we could.  She was talkative, and made the time pass.

We came to the next aid station, which was unfortunately, down a set of stairs in a basement.  My legs weren't happy. Patrick and Karen were there, and I was happy to see them.  They had all my stuff, and I wanted to change clothes, but I decided to wait until after we hit the turn around.  We all left, it was getting dark, but it was only a mile and a half until the turn around, and then we would get back to the aid station and I could change into new clothes and eat some food.

Out of the aid station and towards the turn around, I sprinted about 20 feet.  My large twitch muscles agreed, and it felt good to stretch out, even for just a minute.  I slowed back down and Brian and our new friend caught up.  We mixed running and walking and it was sprinkling.  It seemed to take forever to get to that little turn around sign, but we made it and headed back.

Brian stooped down on the trail and picked up a huge toad!  It was so cute, and it really perked my spirits right up.  We started seeing them all over the trail, and were careful to watch a bit more where we stepped.  I was using my headlamp at this point, on a low red setting. With the trail so wide, not much more was needed, and the brighter white of my headlamp was making my glasses foggy and blurry.

We made it back to the Cammal aid station, mile 63 now.  I gathered up my things - I was sluggish with tired, and knew I was looking a little out of it as I looked through my gear for what I was going to change into.  I wasn't being very communicative, and asked Brian and Pat to find me soup.  Karen went upstairs with me and stood outside of the full sized bathroom while I was getting changed in case I needed anything.

I washed my face in the sink, and it felt amazing.  I changed all my clothes except my sports bra (which I wasn't having any issues with so I didn't want to change it).  I changed into a loose long sleeved shirt for the night, new underwear and new shorts, powdering myself and trying once again to fix my chafing issues.


B-man taping up a toe for me that was hurting when I changed shoes.

I decided to change shoes into something more cushioned, but when I stood up and walked around, my right pinky toe was hurting.  I was standing and staring at my feet contemplating if the pain was bad enough to fix, or if i should just run through, and Brian and Patrick were looking at me, and asked me if I was going to throw up.  I told them what the problem was, and Brian sat me down and doctored the toe.  There was no blister, but it was sore on the side. The taping helped, so I set out again, enthusiastically looking forward to being through the night and picking up Patrick at mile 80.


Brian and I setting out again from Cammal.

Things got a little groggy for me after that.  We set out mostly walking, trying to keep our pace brisk.  I kept falling back, and the change of shoes was a bit loose at the back.  It wasn't bothering me too much, but I was worried about it, and told Brian I would change back to my other shoes at the next aid station.
This is where the really tough grind began.  It was raining a bit more, and I was getting grumpy and worrying about my pace.  Brian and Gwen were faster walkers than me, and I would start out keeping up with them, but then I would fall back, then jog a little to catch back up.  Brian would slow down, make sure I was ok, and we would start going a bit faster again.  It was a 6 mile slog to Slate Run, where Pat and Karen were waiting.  I was tired, I was hurting and tired of being chafed.  Patrick brought my shoes, and I don't remember if I ate anything.  I was asked if i wanted tomato soup, but declined.  I changed my shoes, and got up and walked back up to the trail when I was ready, figuring Gwen and Brian would catch up to me fast.  I was a little down because I felt like I couldn't break into a run; Gwen's achilles was paining her.  We had 11 miles until we would see Patrick and Karen again, and it seemed like it was taking forever.  I kept asking Brian about cutoffs and pace, though we were doing ok.  I tried to put some running in here and there, but I couldn't sustain a good pace.

Then I looked up and saw that the stars were out and amazingly beautiful.  My stomach was feeling a bit off, so I chewed some gum and then had a peppermint, and I just gazed up at the stars, and tried not to go off the side of the trail.   I spent a lot of the time that I was falling back looking for toads, and looking at the wildlife I could see in the dark.  We saw a couple deer too.  Those miles in the dark were long - even after the Cedar Run aid station, which I also made a quick trip.  Ready to be done.  I was still trying to be in good spirits, but I was in a cloud of tired.  I was quiet, and Gwen was talkie, so I didn't feel like I needed to talk, which was probably not great for me.  The woods also closed in and then it clouded up, so I couldn't even see the stars anymore.

We kept hoping Blackwell aid station would appear, when suddenly a friendly face appeared from the gloom.   Patrick had ran south a few miles to meet us!  I was happy to see him, and it was a good boost to pick it up a bit.

We made it to Blackwell.  Only 20 miles left, and it was 3:30 in the morning.  I was 2 hours ahead of the cutoff, but it was stressing me out.  We went out of Blackwell, and Brian ran a little bit more with us to get a last little bit of mileage.  Brian finally said he would turn around.  I gave him a giant hug, and he would be there at the finish after he caught a little bit of sleep.

A lot of walking was now happening.  The next aid station was a long ways away, and I was so sleepy more than anything.  Patrick was encouraging, even when I was nagging him about pace.  We chatted about this and that, and mostly just having his company was good.  He stayed beside me, and when I asked him for something I had him carry he had it right there for me.  We almost bonked into a porcupine, but it scrambled off of the trail pretty quickly.

I was zoning out, slowing down, hallucinating aid stations where there were none, and worrying about cut offs.  It seemed like the boy scout aid station would never appear.  So I ran.  I needed to run.  I ran pretty hard for as tired as I was for at least 1/4 of a mile... it might have been longer or shorter, but I needed to run.  It was kind of crazy - my legs all of a sudden felt great, the all-over body aches I was having stopped, and I ran strong and well.

I kept the off and on running until we reached the aid station.  I had run out of gels about halfway through, so was really looking forward to some food.  The pickings were minimal.  There was still plenty of food there, but nothing looked appetizing.  I had been hoping for a gel, something simple that I didn't have to think about chewing and could suck down for quick calories, but I settled on half of a pb sandwich and some hot cocoa.  I don't think I sat down, I just grabbed the food and walked.  Patrick filled my water bottle, and we were back out.  I ran as much as I could manage after that.

The sky was getting lighter, and I kept pounding out as much as I could.  I started to wake up a bit more, and Patrick and I were enjoying the scenery.  I started playing games with myself to run to a certain tree, or after we hit the next mile marker.  I also tried changing the gait of my step to reach a little further, just to change the muscles up a bit.  It all was serving to mix it up enough that I was staying awake.

I was still hallucinating aid stations, much to both Patrick and my entertainment, but eventually we made it to Darling Run, 4 miles to go.  I was well ahead of time.  It was 8:30 in the morning.  I had 3.5 hours to go 4 miles.  The aid station offered me hot cocoa and scrambled eggs, and I decided I could sit and relax a bit.  I was staring at my feet, Patrick standing nearby, and I asked, "How much time do I have to get in under 28 hours?"  "You have an hour and a half."  "Lets go!"

I finished the eggs, burnt my tongue trying to finish the hot cocoa, and we were out of there.  I didn't run much, but I tried.  After maybe a mile, we spotted Jason and Eli on the bikes.   A little while after, Brian joined us as well.  I was shuffling along at a walk, when Jason peered behind at another 100 miler that I had passed earlier in the morning.  We were about a mile from the finish, and Jason said, "She's starting to run..."

Talk about lighting a fire.  Brian and Patrick and Jason laughed at me as I peeled off.  I didn't run very long, but I put a bit more distance between me and the person behind me.  It was so great to come in with everyone with me.  We spotted Karen in her purple jacket as we came around the final corner, and I opened it up and sprinted to the finish, Brian running ahead to capture the moment, Patrick cheering me on, and Jason coming up from behind.  It was amazing.  My legs felt good to stretch it out, and I crossed the finish line in 27:25:02, well under 28 hours, and well under the cut off of 30 hours.



 Bringing it home.

So here I am - the proud finisher of the Pine Creek 100 mile challenge.  In summation, I don't think it really could've gone much better.  I had a few issues, a few learning experiences, but I'm happy how it went.  I loved my crew and pacers, my husband and son were there with me and cheering me on, and all the friends and family that couldn't be there in person were rooting me on from far away.  I know I am one stubborn girl, and I think this is proof of the tenacity one can have when one puts one's mind to something.   Dreams and goals are real, and I went from being a chubby girl that was happy about running one mile without stopping, to running 100 miles in 27 and a half hours.
 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Miniature Train

Today we went down to Pittsburgh to visit the Carnegie Science Center.  It was great for Eli, and for me as well, because we got to see the miniature railroad.  I used to visit it when I was little, and I always loved it.  I used to think the little people came to life once all the workers were done and went home for the evening.  The room the train is in is three times the size it used to be, allowing them to expand, and I just love it.

I think someday, I might get into building pastoral train scenes like the ones they've created there.

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Soup

I made another batch of vegetable soup today. It turned out really yummy. I chopped up some onion and carrots, sautéed them in a little oil and butter, added some ground pepper, a little thyme and some sage, and a little bit of minced garlic, then added vegetable broth. It was Trader Joe's organic vegetable broth, and it was ok, though there's a bit of an aftertaste.

I also added a little salt, then a half bag of frozen peas and frozen corn, then fried up a couple skinless chicken breasts and diced them and put those in. It came out as a very hearty soup. The broth was pretty strong, and I wanted a full pot of soup, so I added about 3 cups of water to probably the 2 cups of broth I had started with. Jason claimed the soup was salty, but it tasted really good to me. Went nicely with one of my rolls with a little butter on it for lunch.

I need to write down the amount of spices I put in next time... i usually just toss some in though, and it seems to work fine. Next week, I think I'll do potato soup in bread bowls again.... Mmm... better get the soup craving over before warm weather gets here... not that I'm holding my breath...