Monday, October 10, 2016

Deeply Needed Forest - not running 100 miles

It's not good to be a hypocrite.  I was for many years, and I still am.  I am also, however, not proud.  When something happens, and I have to alter my path, I do it.  I do my best to be strong, to be cheerful, to keep moving through everything life throws at me.  Sometimes we trip and fall, and when we get up, we dust off, alter our path a little, and keep going.

I admit it.  I've sometimes held a bit of snark for those who can't finish the distance they sign up for.  Respect for what they did, yes, but that little devil sitting on my shoulder thinking they should know better, should've trained harder.  I've pushed myself hard to finish the races I sign up for.  I never wanted to be thought of like that.  Not so much by other people, but by myself.  We are all our own worst critic when it comes to our achievements.

This year, I didn't finish the Oil Creek100 mile race I signed up for.  I signed up for the 100 mile race.  I knew I couldn't replicate the emotion and the way I dug deep in 2015, but I wanted to try again.  I wanted to fix some mistakes I made.  I wanted to try harder.

I finished my race at 100k.  Sixty-two miles instead of 100.  I stopped.  But I didn't fall short.  I finished something even bigger for myself.  I stopped, and I was happy to stop.  I wasn't sad about not going on.

Could I have pushed further? Could I have made it to the finish?  Maybe.

I spent 19 hours in the woods, most of those spent with some of my very best running friends.  I got to see a ton of the people I care about, even if it was brief.  I learned that I can push through bonks and bad lows pretty quickly if I keep moving.  I learned that I can run hard, even after 55 miles, when I want to catch up to someone.  I learned that I get terribly homesick when I'm alone in the woods.  I learn that I'm not afraid of bears or noises when I have a goal.  I learned which of my gear worked, and what didn't.  I learned to push down two weeks of anger and depression and stress and the threat of ongoing health battles and just keep my eyes down on the trail, step step step root rock mud step step climb climb passing on your left breathe in cool breeze step step ahh downhill deep breath step step run run

You know that feeling, you get, when you run down a hill, and the wind is in your eyes, and there are a little bit of tears, and you blink and breathe and it's one of those best feelings...

I was chasing down Rog, and I was running faster at mile 56 than I had run most of the day, and I'm coming down that down hill, right before the sign in box, and those tears were there, and all I was and all I'd ever be was that trail and the night and the breeze, and I tapped that sign in box with my fingers, and the distance didn't matter.  The goal was there, under my feet, in the friends ahead and behind me, in the night air.

And I had finished.  And I Did Not Fail.  And I did not finish.  And this year, I didn't have the stubbornness, or the strength to bear down and keep going and chase that finish.

I had the strength to stop, to breathe in the trail and know that this year my goal hadn't been to finish running 100 miles.  It had been to find those little moments on the trail that make me love this place and this adventure that is life so much.

Thank you to all that were out there with me, be it for a tiny space of time, or 19 hours.  I was so happy for everyone I got to see out there, everyone who gave me a good word, or made me laugh, or think, or inspired.  I hope the trail gave you what you wanted, just like it did for me.

And I'll be back next year, all year, whenever that call of the trail pulls me back...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Why ask, prepare yourself, for the Call of the Wild

These are the Fables.  That's the song that line in the title is from.  The line ran through my head a lot this past Saturday as I ran through the woods in the middle of Pennsylvania, building my own fables in my head.

The wilds were certainly calling me, but when it's 90+ degrees and 95% humidity and calling for rain and storms one has to be of a... particular frame of mind.  I thought I had prepared myself for the Call of the Wilds.  I don't think I had, really.

So Friday morning, I decided to do my usual on the way to a race that's a little further away - I took the scenic drive and explored a bit.  I went to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania and took some photos of clouds.  I had run my first 100 miler there back in 2013, and I drove around and reminisced fondly for a little while.

Pine Creek Panorama

I hit Wellsboro for an early dinner, and walked around town for a little while.  I bought an umbrella in a store, since I had forgotten one, and thought if I decided to hang around at all after my race or to support the 100 milers that were racing at the same time, I might want an umbrella.  I didn't know anyone personally who was getting there early Friday, so I knew I could take my time, roll in and pick up my packet before 8, and set up my little car-camping set up and have plenty of rest for the next day.

The Wellsboro Diner

I couldn't figure out what this contraption was...

I made it down to Little Pine State Park, where the race would begin and end.  The lake that was the headquarters was tranquil.  There were a lot of runners walking around, chatting with each other, and the vibe was calm.  It was hot and humid, and the cumulous clouds were popping up and beautiful.  I had hit several showers on my way, making for a scenic drive but the sky was blue, and I even stopped to snap a picture of an amazing rainbow that appeared a few miles from the park.
I picked up my packet, took a few photographs and walked around for a little while, then headed down to my reserved campsite.  It was super muggy.  I got a shower, hoping that a little cool water would relax me so I would sleep well.  Bad luck.  Push button showers with one temp - warm.  I rinsed off, put on as few clothes as I could decently get away with in a family campground, and arranged my bedding in my Forester so I could sleep. 

Little Pine State Park and Little Pine Lake

Even with the windows down, it was hot.  I had brought this bug-netting sheet (I don't even remember where I got it), and it was almost too hot to have that over me, but when I didn't have it over parts of me, the bugs ate me.  I read for a little while and eventually fell asleep.

I woke up around 5 am, and with no horses in the 100 mile race, I felt the rest would do me better than seeing them off.  As I was rummaging around getting my gear together, I heard cheering and shouts from a little way down in the campground, where the runners would pass through to get to the trail for the start of their 100 mile journey.  I would be starting in the same spot in a couple hours.

The morning air was already super thick.  In the pre-dawn light, my headlamp glow was fuzzy as I made my way to the camp bathroom to get dressed.  I put body glide everywhere.  I knew with the sweat and salt I would be a chafed mess before the end of the day if I didn't prepare.  Once I was dressed, I drove up to the race start to finish putting on my shoes and get my bib in place. 

Racers gathering for the start of the mountain marathon.

So, this race is tough. I did it last year, in 2015, coming off of a rough surgery. I've never done a trail race out west, but I've done quite a few out here, and this was easily the hardest, even for it's distance, that I have ever done.  And I signed up again this year!  There are five and a half (yes) hills over roughly 28-29 miles.  So it's over a marathon.  This one will give you ultra-runner status.  These are old mountains.  They were mighty and spiky and angry once, and the wind and rain and rivers worked at them and the age of a millennia made them shrug off their points and they shook their rocks down into gullies and their shoulders bowed over into rounded tall ridges.  They are quiet and stoic and proud.  And they will humble any runner who doesn't respect them.

I was humbled plenty last year, and though in the last couple of months, I was hoping to do better than my 10 and a half hours from last year, but with the weather, I knew I just wanted to finish and not get heat stroke or dehydrate or anything crazy.  I had 12 hours to finish.

I found my friends from Oil Creek, Rob and Mick at the starting line, and we caught up and wished each other the best, and then we were off.  There's about a mile of road before the runners break off onto trail, and I kept my pace slow.  My legs felt sluggish, and that immediately worried me.  I took it pretty easy on the road, knowing I had time, and by the time I reached the trail, there were only a handful of people behind me.  On the bright side, there was no bottle-necking.  The other really good thing, was I had brought my hiking poles with me this year.  I knew they would help exponentially on the ups and downs as my legs got tired through the race.  And I used them on the first hill.  And I regretted signing up for a second year.

The first hill was steep.  I fought mentally with myself about how I wasn't in shape, but it was also the humidity and the heat, and I didn't remember doing this poorly last year starting out.  But as humans we forget things, and I don't really remember how I did on that first hill last year, but I tried to shake myself out of my living in the past funk, and just concentrated on getting up that hill one step at a time.

Then it flattened out into beautiful ferny mossy trail, and I could run a little again.

Flat after the first hill!  Yay!  Four and a half to go!

Looking back at the first Aid Station.

I made it to the first Aid Station.  I had been thoughtful about the heat and had brought extra salt tabs, as well as a little ibuprofen and six gels.  I had taken two salt caps before the race, and by the time I reached the first aid station, my bottles were both pretty much empty.  I had the volunteers fill them up, I grabbed some Swedish fish(of course), drank Coke, water and gatorade, then headed out.

I had dumped a cup of water over my head as I was leaving the aid station, and the head band I was wearing was a little too drippy, so I took it off and wrapped it around one of my poles.  I started running through a really nice and gradual down-hill, it was lovely.  I was tailing a lady in a pink shirt, and she was a ways a head of me, so I took a short bathroom break when the course made a turn, but another trail kept going straight, I ducked off, then kept going.  The next climb started.

A lovely little bridge after the first descent.

Sweaty and hot. (but still smiley at this point, at least)

Starting up the second gradual but rocky ascent.

I started up the next hill, and it was very rocky, but gradual, so I could hike pretty quickly.  I was using my poles for balance and to help on the steep steps, and I noticed my head band was gone from my pole.  I mourned briefly for the bit of gear, and for the fact that I had left an article of clothing in the woods, and shook it off and kept going.  At the top of the next climb, the trail was beautiful.  I ran a little and caught up to the girl in pink, who's name was Janet.  We chatted and I found we were pretty much the same pace.  We talked the entire way down the next descent and into the next aid station.  I'm not sure which of us suggested it, but we pretty much decided to stick together.  We were doing better together just chatting which was making the time go by faster.

We stopped at the mile 11ish aid station, and they had pickles and ginger ale I ate a bunch of pickles, swigged ginger ale, gatorade and plenty of water, and also took two more salt-tabs.  I also tried the trick of sticking ice down my sports bra, as well as dumping water over my head and rubbing ice on the back of my neck.  The aid station volunteers had filled my bottles with ice and drink as well, so I was hoping I would stay cool on the next climb, which I knew was particularly tough. 

Janet and I left together and walked for a bit so that we weren't sloshing too much out of the aid station.  We did a little less than a mile along the bike trail, then started the climb.  Janet headed up in front of me, and though I did ok keeping up with her at first, as the climb grew steeper, I lost sight of her.  I felt like I was carrying a load of bricks on my back.  The heat and sun in the bits of exposed trail up the climb defeated me.  I don't ever remember my mood swinging so low so quickly in my life.  I sat on a rock for an hour.  Ok, not really.  It was probably like 45 seconds.  But I was so horribly demoralized by my sudden lack of oomph to get up this damn mountain, that I was bewildered.  I turned around and looked up.  And up.  And I moved forward.  In another 50 yards, I was forced to sit again, dizzy and exhausted.  I had drank enough, I had eaten enough, and I was done.  I pondered the trip down the hill back to the aid station to drop, and I thought of Janet ahead of me.  And I thought of the people rooting for me.  I decided I would most likely drop at mile 17.  I kept climbing.  I didn't sit again, but I slogged up, stopping occasionally.

I lamented that Janet was probably well ahead of me, but as I reached a flat bit on the ridge, I saw her up ahead.  I caught up with her, and we slogged on together.  At a break in the trees, we could see the rail trail bridge over pine creek that we had crossed not too terribly long before.

There is a tiny bridge over there we had climbed up from.

I found out from Janet that her family was running the "rogue" aid station that was ahead only a couple of miles.  They would have water and hopefully give us the boost we needed.  I came out of my funk almost as quickly as I had gone in, just having someone to be in contact with, and we kept each other company really well.  The miles went by quickly, and we soon came to some easier double-track, which we continued to hike. Even better, the clouds rolled in and blocked out the suck, I mean, sun, which really did make a difference.

We chatted about running, about being active, about kids, about health.  A runner came back towards us, warning us there was a rattle-snake ahead.  I had never seen one in the wild, so I took a very careful peek from a distance.  It was rattling at us and was coiled up, so we steered well around, and I took a picture, from a distance.  It was big.

Hi, Rattlesnakie!  We'll stay out of your way!

Janet's family's little rogue aid station was awesome.  They filled our bottles, had gatorade, misted us with water, and lifted our spirits considerably.  So did the sprinkling of rain that started.  The wind picked up, and we were on our way back down hill.  The down was rockier, but we did ok, and we came out to go up the mile 17 aid station.

Some nice easy running coming out of the rogue aid station.

I remembered the road up to the aid station being worse last year.  The sun was out, but Janet and I clicked our way up with our hiking poles, and we were soon refilling our packs, and I drank a lot of fluids, ate some pickles and they also had potato chips.  Nothing else really sounded good, and I had being pretty steady on salt-tabs and gels all day.  My stomach felt fine, and I had no interest in dropping now that Janet and I had pretty much decided to just stick together until the end.

I knew that we would both feel better later having helped each other, and we were already getting along great.  We left the aid station feeling refreshed, and also a little buoyed up that we were going out in a small group of people, who were all about in the same mind set of just grinding this out and getting it done.

We started up the next set of switch-backs, and the wind picked up and thunder started rumbling, and sprinkles came down.  It felt so good, and I felt like a new person, mentally.  The lightning and thunder made me slightly nervous, as I was carrying poles, but though the rumbling was loud, it didn't seem to be on top of us, and we climbed up alternating talking with just working up the hill.  We were at the top of the fourth hill.  Only one and a half to go.

The cloudy vista at the top of hill four.

We had picked up another friend, Bob, and the three of us hiked strong through the woods.  At this point, yes, I was feeling good enough to run, and I decided that mentally, I would benefit much better from just staying with my new friends.  We would be good for each other, and make something bigger than a race time.  New trail friends.

The trail was beautiful up on this ridge.  If one wasn't too exhausted from getting up there to enjoy it.

The lovely little runnable sections just get your spirits up before the really steep and rocky downhills.

The next downhill was super steep, rocky, and we didn't gain any speed.  The rain had tapered off, but the clouds remained, which kept us at least a little cooler.  The switchbacks down were steep and rocky, but besides a few slips and toe-bangs, I did ok.  My big toes were hurting some from the steep downs, but everything else felt pretty good.  Except chafing.  I had sweated and salted all the body glide off, and was hoping the next aid station had some vaseline.

We finally made it down the hill, to the endless rolling green.  You come down off the hill and expect the aid station to come up quickly, but it's a little over 2 miles until you get to it.  I was feeling good, but I just hiked quickly and would pause and wait for Bob and Janet.  I was hoping to scout out the aid station and give them a happy "WOO" once I had gotten there.

The endless rolling green 2 miles.

I ran down to the aid station, whooping and cheering.  I have to say the final aid station was the best of the day.  Two little girls were right there as I came in with a hose, to cool us off.  The volunteers took my bottles, offered paper-towels to wipe my eyes from the salt and sweat.  They had vaseline, so I quickly took care of that, and I jabbered and talked good-naturedly to them as I ate (too many) dill pickles, had more potato chips, and drank ginger ale and water to hydrate.  We knew the next hill would be tough, but we had made this aid station well before the cut-off.  There was nothing between us and the finish except one and a half hills.  We said farewell to our new aid station volunteer friends, and set off up the hill.

Goodbye, Jersey Mills aid station!  We love you!

I was going to take a picture of the Torbert trail - but I don't think anything could quite do it justice.  It's 1000 feet of gain in about three-quarters of a mile.  It's not precisely straight up, but you wouldn't want to tip backwards on it.

It went much better for me this year.  I'd call out a tree in front of us, and we'd get to it, pause for a few seconds, then move on.  We did this until the trail once again flattened out, and we were up on the top of the mountain, hiking a nice flat.  I apologized to Janet for talking so much, but we were moving well.  I knew Janet's feet and especially her heels were bothering her, and she wasn't looking forward to the last downhill.  I wanted to make sure she made it down without too much stress.  Bob had made it up the hill well ahead of us, so it put our little group back at two.

The downhill was steep and slick and rocky.  I'd go down the trail 50 feet, and wait a little for Janet, and call back and make sure she was ok, or call out if it was slippery or steeper or starting to flatten out.  She was quiet, so I knew she was concentrating, but I kept being cheerful, and we finally made it to the bottom, where there's a strange old hunting cabin across a little bridge.  I knew we only had that half of a hill left, and then a little further on the trail and we would be finished!

Strange little lonely lodge in the woods.  (A small bit of research says it's the Love Run cabin)

We start up the last ascent, quite gradual compared to the others, and Janet says, "Does it seem really dark to you, it feels like it's eight o'clock."

The sky was getting darker.  And the wind picked up.  We made one more turn to go up the ridge, and the rumbling started, and was getting closer, and was even windier.  As we hiked, I told Janet if she heard any cracking falling trees, to get to the nearest tree trunk and cover her head.  

This picture was my ipod's interpretation of how dark it was.  It wasn't quite that dark to human eyes, but still.

We made it up to the top of the ridge and the top of the final hill just as the storm hit.  Wind, rain and thunder.  The flashes of lightning happened but didn't seem very close.  I wanted to run down the mountain, but I wouldn't leave Janet.  And it was pretty amazing and exhilarating even if it was scary.   I think I may have shouted some embarassing comment about being the storm.  It's what you do when you're a nerd girl who reads too much fiction.

I went forward, then waited, forward then waited.  We had some rocks to scramble down as we started to drop back down from the ridge.

We had made it back to some less technical single track that would take us to the last final down before we reached the finish line, when a flash and an almost immediate crack hit the ridge to our right.  I probably should have flung my poles, but I just kept moving.  We were both a little shaken, but we kept going.  The rain slowed, and there were still rumbles, but nothing as close as that one, and we hiked as quickly as we could to get out of the woods.

Last beautiful bit of single track.

I started to hear cheering, so I let out a "WOO"  And it was answered not far ahead.  Janet recognized her husband's voice and his cousin, and we crept down the last steep hill to be greeted by them, and escorted to the finish line.

Janet and I, almost out of the woods!

 We made it to the finish!  Janet's family was there to greet her, and Rob and Mick had waited for me to finish!  I was so happy to see them, and was happy to be done! 

Finally at the finish!

The storm blew out after a few more flashes, and I had a nice post-race piece of chicken.  I said farewell to my friends, old and new, and left to get my shower and assess my chafing.

It was a really tough race, but I almost have to say, even though it took me longer, after that first mental break, I think I had an easier time this year, due to sticking with another tough lady who was just in it to finish.  And we toughed it out.  Through heat and humidity, through wind and storms and lightning strikes, we made it.

Besides my fairly bad chafing, I didn't have too many issues.  My stomach did well on nothing but e fuel gels and pickles and Pringles and a few Swedish fish.  I drank mostly water or gatorade and some ginger ale at the aid station.  The only time I had a stomach problem was when I ate a cliff gel before that very last hill, and it sat in my stomach like a lump.

I've had bad chafing before, and I know it will heal, and though I said it so many times yesterday that I will never do this race again... there really is something about not denying the Call of the Wild.  And maybe next year, I'll be even a little better prepared.

Good bye, Little Pine.  I hope to see you again in the future!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

It's not where it begins or ends, it's the stuff in between that matters...

I've been struggling a little bit lately in my own head to figure out what kind of person I want to be.  I like a lot of things.  I like running.  I like hiking.  I like kayaking, biking and geocaching.  I like doing these things alone, or with friends or family.  I like gardening, I like reading, I like video games.  I have this secret ambition to learn to paint and draw.  I also do landscape photography and like to digitally edit and enhance them.

I also work, and clean and take care of typical house things.

So when I decide to attempt to hike 100 miles over 50 hours, a lot of things fall away.  There's nothing but the trees and sky and rocks and dirt, and you walk and walk and walk, and if you're with people you bond and chat and laugh and get silly.  There are periods of quiet companionship, and there are conversations about life, and there are made up songs.  There are slight times of frustration and home-sickness, of missing a red-headed boy, or fuzzy dogs, or a warm form in a comfy bed next to you.

But mostly there's that tunnel of trail that just pulls you along, and you know that if you want to get this accomplishment done, you have to just go.

So I didn't take any pictures.   I didn't stop to move snakes or salamanders.  I didn't dip my feet in the stream.  I didn't run my fingers along the giant rocks.

I had a great time.  I pushed myself and found that my body is very resilient, but that blisters are pretty much a game-ender for me.  I had no stomach issues, very few muscle issues, and fatigue came and went.  We started at 5:30 Friday evening, walked until about 5:30 Saturday morning, slept for an hour and a half, got up and walked until 2:30, where I decided I wanted to stop before the blisters on my feet got any worse.

I like the A100 a lot.  I hiked with and met some amazing people this weekend, not to mention getting to spend time with some of my very best friends.  There's a balance that I'm finding when I go out onto the trail and into the woods though.  If I'm going to hike, I want to go slower.  Wander off trail and flip rocks and take pictures of flowers or mushrooms or bugs.  Catch frogs, find ruins.  If I want to run, then I'll keep moving.  I'll still stop to take pictures, or to look at things.

I'm a terrible fast hiker.  I'm a really really good slow runner.

And I'm very glad I learn something new about myself and my world every time I go out into the woods.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

50 mile Glacier Ridge - Triumphant Trifecta and the Back of the Pack Pack

It's a good thing that I have a bad memory.  Ok, it's not that bad.  It's probably typical for an almost 38 year old woman.  I guess it's a good thing that I don't remember the things that I haven't enjoyed very much in life.  Like pain.  Or nightmares.

The Glacier Ridge Ultra is kind of like that.  Not that it's painful, or nightmarish (at least not too nightmarish), but I've run it before.  I ran the 50k in 2013 - I remember it being muddy and slick and cold and terribly difficult, but that didn't stop me from signing up for the 30k in 2015.  The 30k was hot, slightly less muddy, but so humid and hot and that last mile seems to take years.

So I signed up for the 50 miler.  You see, I try to be a completion-ist.  If there are a series of somethings, especially when they're close by, I like to do all of them.  So, I've run the three different Ultra distances at Oil Creek, so I wanted to do the same for Glacier.

Thank goodness for bad memory.

So I signed up last winter, and somehow convinced my good friend Alisha to join in on my craziness.  She had also done the 50k and 30k in previous years, so it was easy to get her to join in on the fun.  My friend Kim (who is wiser, I believe), decided to stick with the 30k.

The Glacier Ridge Ultra takes place about an hour north of Pittsburgh, and an hour south of where I live in Meadville.  It's in this beautiful state park, called Moraine State Park with this gorgeous glacial lake, Lake Arthur.  The race is mostly single track or double track with a lot of ups and downs, swamps, a few flat sections, and mud.

Mud.  Much mud.

We started out this year just wanting to finish.  I started my training this year strong - lots of running, lots of gym workouts, weights, stair climbing, long hikes.  Then I got a new dream job.  So now I'm working two and a half jobs and *bloop*  bye-bye regular training schedule.  I had a very challenging 25k a month before the 50 miler would occur, and I bruised my knee good in that race, so I didn't run much because of that - still fit walking and hiking in, did a few runs, but nothing like my brain and guilt felt like I should.

But I tried not to panic.  Race weekend was here.  I have to say, I was relaxed about it.  I did want to finish, but only just.  The cut-off for the Glacier 50 miler was 14 hours.  I'd done the math, that if we just kept averaging a little more than a 16 minute mile, we'd be golden to finish.  Thursday and Friday, I threw my stuff together in between work and home duties, Friday I headed to Alisha's to spend the night (she lives a good 40 minutes closer to the race than I do).  We had a nice meal, relaxed on the couch and watched tv after, and got a decent night's sleep.

The forecast for Saturday called for rain and cool temps. I was fine with this.  Nothing ruins a race for me like the heat.  We woke up to cloudy skies, but no rain, and we drove to the race start.  I was wearing shorts, long sleeves that I could push up easily, and my Oil Creek cap (to keep the rain off of my glasses).  We planned to stick together to get to the end of the race.  We picked up our bibs, took a pre-race picture, and headed to the start.

Alisha and I being silly at the start.

The sunrise was gorgeous, and we lined up, and started at 6:30 am.  I took my hat off into the first mile, since it wasn't raining, and just held it.  The trail was in good shape.  A little muddy from rain from the last few days, but nothing like previous years.  We were cheerful, we ate our gels early and kept consistent with that, and we met a new friend, Kelly, who said our plan to be slow and steady sounded good to him, and he would stick with us as long as he could.

We made it 10 miles to the first full aid station at 528 in 2 hours and 20 minutes - well ahead of our plan.  We only made a brief stop, and crossed a road, and then we found mud.

Some of the less muddy trail heading out of the 528 Aid Station towards Jennings.

I don't mind mud.  I don't really mind my feet being wet.  Living and hiking and running in Western PA, you learn to live with wet feet, and you find shoes that drain really well.  There is something about squishing and splashing through mud and sending sheets of water careening up to your knees or onto other people's legs that makes me feel like a little kid again.  So went the next 10 miles of the race.  This section of the trail had a lot of mud, but we were all moving great, having a good time, laughing when one of us would nearly lose a shoe(none were lost).  We got to the Jennings Aid station(mile 15ish) in the midst of this, and the trails were very run-able and not quite as muddy.  The mud was getting worse as we retraced our steps to the 528 aid station and about mile 20.  The three different races taking place were taking a toll on the trails.  We took a little longer at the Aid Station this time, eating and refilling bottles, grabbing things (like the all important Swedish Fish) from our drop bags, then heading out.

Now the next 20 miles consisted of a little bit of road and double-track.  We were walking a little more, but still doing great running downs and most flats, with a little bit of walking breaks.  The mud on this section was really bad because it looked like they had been working on them with some sort of machinery.  To make it worse, there were large hunks of aggregate stone hiding under some of the mud, which made footing tricky.  I was having issues on uphills.  I would fall behind on the uphills, then make up the time on the downhills, which I was still doing really well on.

Flat miles of double track along the swamp.

So the pattern continued.  As speedy hiking as we could on the ups, and using gravity to run the downs, being careful of the muddiest spots.  I had one bonky moment in the last mile before we turned around for the long trip back to the start / finish area.  The turn around is un-manned, so runners have to tear a page from a phonebook, then carry it back to the previous aid station.  It's about a mile / mile and a half round trip up and down some gnarly hills with lots of mud.

I couldn't get any traction on the uphills.  I was getting left behind and couldn't get my energy up or my motivation to catch up going.  I always get very mean to myself when I'm low on energy and ready to be done with something.  Mean and low-blood-sugar-me told sad-and-falling-behind-me that I should give up, just walk, and let them go ahead - they would be better off without me holding them back.  I told mean me to get a grip, shook myself out of the funk, and grabbed a stick and started using it to help myself up the slick hills.  That did the trick.  I caught up, tore out my phone book page, and we turned towards the finish.  Ok... turned and thought about the 20 miles of mud left until the finish, but we hiked and ran on!

We retraced our steps through mud - walking all of the uphills, and really, the stick helped.  We were running / jogging as much as we could on the downs and flats, and we were all still feeling pretty good.  The couple miles of dirt road were a reprieve from the mud, and when we got back to the 528 Aid Station, I decided to change my socks and shoes.  The amount of mud that I wiped off my feet was impressive.  I did a quick wipe down of my feet, then put dry socks on and new shoes.  My feet felt so much better at once.  I grabbed some coke and a grilled cheese, and we were on our way.  10 miles to go.  Four hours left to do it.  Easy, right?

Hrm.  Maybe.  The next five miles were some of the most challenging miles I'd run.  The rest of the racers had come through, most were finished, and the trail was in shambles.  Uphills were super slow going, as we slid back as much as we moved forward.  Downhills were treacherous because we kept sliding out of control.  To make matters worse, I broke my stick on a downhill, and had to go without (I couldn't find another that was the right length or strength).

We all got pretty quiet as we concentrated.  We had thought that 4 hours would be plenty of time to finish the last 10 miles, but we hadn't accounted for the mud.  We crept on.

Finally, we came down a hill to the little pond that signified 5 miles left!  There was a water station there at the road crossing, and the volunteers cheered us on, which was a great boost.  We had 5 miles left, we knew we could make it.

And we did.  We slogged through - and there was a lot less running.  When we finally broke off of the trail and onto bike trail and road, Alisha, who still had some in the tank, took the lead, and Kelly and I shuffled / jogged / shuffled / jogged.  Alisha finished a few seconds before us, and we were finished!  My first official 50 mile race done!  And the Glacier Ridge Ultra-marathon trifecta complete!
The trifecta of finisher awards!

And the mud.   I might be a little sensitive to mud for a little while.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The week after

It's been a week and a few hours since I finished the Oil Creek 100 miler.  I haven't run much more than a few feet here or there, just to test out the legs, but I feel pretty good.  I've done several hikes and walks, and my body felt pretty good overall. 

The chafing issues healed pretty much within three days.  My second toe on each foot are pretty messed up.  I had a really big blister under each nail, and the toes feel a little... odd now that the blisters have been popped and healed up.  My quads are tired, but not sore.  My knees feel a little sore on downhills while hiking.  My legs are pretty tired on uphills.  Mentally, I'm tired, but good.

Will I do this again?  I think it's too early to answer this question.  I feel... disappointed in myself for cutting it so close, for worrying the people around me.  I thought I was in pretty good shape going into this, but training for running 100 miles is difficult, especially with a small child, a job, and family obligations.  I did my best for the time I had, but I think I could've done better.  Some things, like unexpected back pain, the chafing, were things that I had to deal with, but without those issues, maybe I could've moved faster for longer.

So I'll sign up for "shorter" races for next summer.  I'll think about what I want to do, and maybe try to get a little more "fit" overall.  I have the endurance, I just think I can work on my overall body fitness, if I can make the time and effort.

So far on my race list for next year is Hyner View 25k, maybe Glacier Ridge 50k, maybe the Call of the Wilds marathon to see if I can do it a bit faster, and Tussey Mountainback 50 miler has always been on my list.

We'll see what time and health brings to me this year.  I can't say I'm too disappointed with myself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

100 miles with two minutes to spare

When you bite off more than you can chew, the polite thing isn't to spit it out, it's to do whatever you can do swallow.  And let me tell you, I choked down a bite about 38 miles too big for me to even fit in my mouth. 

The 2015 Oil Creek Trail runs.  I knew I was running 100 miles this year.  Nothing was going to stop me.  See, I had this (not so) little surgery back in January, and I was determined, from that hospital bed that I would recover and run 100 miles on my favorite trail in October.  On October 10th and 11th of 2015, to be exact.

So back in March, mostly healed up, I signed up for my "home" 100 miler.  And I trained.  I ran some races.  Some pretty challenging races, and I ran on the trails almost every weekend that I didn't have races.  I biked, I hiked and roller bladed when I wasn't running.  And I felt good.  

So last Friday, October 9th, I had all my bags packed, my lists made. I went out and marked a section of the race that I had volunteered to mark, and went to the family reunion that is the normal Oil Creek pre-race dinner.  It was a great time, but I escaped early so I could go home and sleep.

Drop bags ready!

Check list checked!

Woke up at 3am Saturday, and after a brief panic over some car trouble and some car juggling, I was on my way to the race.  I was a little stressed when I got there that I wouldn't have enough time, but I had time to use the bathroom, get my chip, check in with my crew and eventual pacers, Roger and Kris N. and calm down a little before the start.

Myself, Dave and Paula (Dave's wife) at the start line. (Kim is grinning at us from the left)  It wasn't too cold at 4:58am, and I knew I would warm up quickly (Photo by Roger N.)

So for those unfamiliar with the Oil Creek Trail races, the runner starts at a middle school, runs about 1.5 miles down a paved bike trail before reaching a trail head, and continuing on mostly single track through Oil Creek State Park.  For the 50k race, you do one loop as such.  For the 100k, two loops.  And us lucky and crazy 100 milers do the same thing three times, plus an extra little 7 mile loop that is about 5 mile of the trail. A runner of the 100 miler has 32 hours to finish.(Remember this for future reference.)

Now this is my home trail.  Most of the time I love it.  Some days, we have little fights, and I fall down or am stuck in my own head and it takes a toll on me.  But this summer was like the honeymoon with the Oil Creek trail.  We had nothing but good days!  We had gotten close!  I knew this trail so well.  I knew where to walk, I knew where to run, I knew where to do a nice lope and let gravity do it's thing.  It had been great!  So I set out to tramp along my old friend for as long as it would take us to get this 100 miles done.

And I took some real (people) friends with me too.  My friend Dave had signed up to stick the run out with me.  He was crazy, and had signed up only two weeks before hand, but we vowed not to hold each other to one another's pace if we weren't feeling so good anymore.

So we ran.  We ran easy, but not too easy.  And not wanting to bog this post with 100 miles of stuff, I'll give some of the highlights.

First of all, it was an exceptionally beautiful day, both in temperatures and scenery.  The leaves were amazing, and the air was cool, but not frigid.  Perfect running weather.

Heather B. on gorgeous trails!

Dave and I chattered about pace, about friends, about life, teased each other, made sure we were both eating/drinking enough.  We didn't linger too long in the first Aid station. I said hi to all my trail family working there, but I didn't eat much - I drank some coke, and had a peanut butter sandwich, filled my bottles, and we kept going.

We chased and were chased by friends most of the first loop.  Rob and Pat were leading, and being close to them worried me that we were going too fast, but I felt good, but not like I was pushing hard and I don't like second guessing myself when it comes to running.  I just end up thinking myself into spirals. A friend of mine, Bill, was right behind us, and we gave each other a quick hug of encouragement, and we were back out of the Aid Station.

Dave admiring the scenery.

Dave and I took turns leading, and we walked all hills, and did an easy gait going downhill.  I had a slight catch in my left ankle and a little bit of chafing issue, but I told myself I would fix those at the second Aid Station, and it would be fine.

Aid Station 2 check point!

Again greeted by the friendly faces of Aid Station 2, I had my bottles filled, I addressed my chafing, took a little ibuprofen to try to figure out my ankle, ate another pb sandwich, had a little coffee, and we took off pretty quickly again. Dave asked if our crew had brought him a egg mcmuffin, and was a little sad that they hadn't.  

The first loop pretty much continued like that.  We ran comfortably, we chatted, we ran with other runners sometimes, and I know I'm forgetting a lot, but I think you probably kill brain cells when you run that long and don't sleep.

We came to Aid Station 3, where I once again tried to address severe chafing on my thighs with some vaseline.  I knew at this point, it was going to be necessary to push through the discomfort until we at least got back to the Aid Station at the middle school, where I could change. I  had worn the capri running pants before, but not for anything over 12 miles.  A very stupid mistake on my part, mostly because I should have known better.

Wait up, I just want to take a quick picture!  You know, for my blog!

So I sucked up the pain, hoped my ankle would feel better when I changed shoes at the school, and kept eating gels, and drinking plenty of water.  We were coming down the last section of trail before we did the Drake Well loop and the bike trail, when I took a pretty good fall on my knees and elbows.  I was back up quickly, and wasn't hurt, so we kept going.  There was a scrape on my elbow, and I felt a bit bruised, but nothing for it but to keep going!

Dave and I coming in from finish the first loop!  Only 68 more miles to go!

I came into the Aid Station and grabbed my shoes and clothes.  I asked my crew to get me some potatoes and a grilled cheese, and felt a little queasy about food.  Hungry, but it didn't sound very appealing.  I ran to the bathroom and changed my pants, made sure I had my chip and bib number still on, addressed my chafing to the best of my ability, then went back out to my crew.  My husband, Jason, and my son were there.  My dad was there too!  It was a speedy reunion, as I ate some grilled cheese, drank some Dr. Pepper and Coke, and then Dave and I were out.  We knew we didn't want to linger too long, and I just wanted to make sure I was eating and getting some caffeine.  I picked up my hiking poles to save my legs on the ups and downs.  After the second loop, I would be picking up my friend Roger to pace me.

The second loop went as well as the first.  The chafing had become tolerable.  I forgot about my ankle, and my feet felt refreshed after a shoe change.  We were still running quite a bit.  

We hadn't seen too much wildlife through the day.  A turkey, a lot of chipmunks, I remember thinking how quiet the woods were.  About a mile and a half from Aid Station 1, something bounced, like a bouncy ball, across the trail in front of me.  I have never seen a mouse or chipmunk jump like that.  It looked like a fuzzy ball, and I have no idea what it was.  It was pretty cool though!

When we got to Aid Station 1 again, no food sounded good.  I was still eating gels like clockwork, because I knew I needed calories, but my mouth felt coated and gross.  I drank ginger ale, I had a couple of pierogis, and got out of there.  We were still ahead of my rough pace plan, but I knew night would be slower.

View from the top of the Wolfkiel switchbacks, right after Aid Station 1.

We were still running quite a bit, but we had gotten quieter.  I took a superman dive and landed right on my knees and stomach.  I got up pretty quick, the ground had been pretty soft there, but my knees were bleeding a little.  I shook it off, and we made it to the road leading to Aid Station 2.  Rog and his daughter, Melissa were there to meet us!

He chatted with us as we made our way down the road. We had to wait a few moments as the train went by, but it was a nice little break.  We got to the Aid Station, and found that  Kris and Paula had brought egg mcmuffins, but I didn't want anything.  I ate a little pizza, and they brought me potato soup, but nothing appealed to me. I drank the pop and ate half the pizza.  I used the bathroom, tried once again to relieve the chafing a little more, and we moved on. 

My friend Bill and a very nice Canadian, Amanda, had left right before us, and Dave and I tried to catch up a bit.  I took the next hill pretty slow, but I was still doing an ok lope on the flats and downs.  Bill still looked as fresh as when he started.  I got the opportunity to run with him and our new friend, Amanda from Canada, for a little bit, and they both cheered me up.  Dave had gotten pretty quiet and had stretched his lead in front of me a bit.  I hung out with Bill and Amanda for a little while longer, but then I caught back up to Dave when Bill had to answer a call of nature.

The sun was starting to get low, and we dug our headlamps out and began to use them.  I had enjoyed my time running with Bill and Manda, but Bill had his timing down very well, and thinking about time and cutoffs made me nervous.  I knew as long as I kept moving forward, even if I had to walk, I could make it.

Night settled in, and we weren't running as much, but still running.  I was being very careful in the dark with my step, doing a lot of hop-leaps, using my poles a lot, but still moving quite quick on the downs.  We made it out of the endless seeming section 3, to the Aid Station, where I got to see more friends.  I choked down some gels, a little pickle juice, and some broth, then we left.

This is when my race gets a little foggy.  I know Dave and I still ran a lot on section in the dark.  We did the Drake's Well loop for the second time, and jogged off and on to the school.  One thing Dave and I did to help each other was as we'd get tired, we'd say "Run to that cone.  Run to that flag"  And I made him laugh by saying "Run to that tree."  "Which tree?"  He knew which one I meant!

We did that on the way back to the school, and got cheered in.  We went in and changed.  I changed socks, bra and realized I had forgotten a shirt. Addressed the chafing again. I had a sharp pain in my back that had started a while back, I got some bio freeze that Paula was nice enough to rub in.  I walked out of the bathroom in my sports bra, for once, to tired and knowing that all the people were my friends and I didn't need to be that self conscious.  I put on a short sleeve shirt.  Kris said I should probably put a long sleeve shirt on, so I did.  My brain was pretty muzzy.  My friends Alisha and her husband Rich were there, and my friend Kim.  They were telling me I looked good.  

Rog was ready to pace me to at least Aid Station 2, where Alisha was going to pick me up.  Rog had run the 50k, and his legs were a bit tired, and he worried he wouldn't keep up with me(ha!). 

I don't remember what time we left the school - though I remember looking at the clock.  I remember petting some dogs as we left the school, and Dave catching up with us and staying with us a bit, but I was mostly walking, and I think he was in a bad head space, and left us behind pretty quickly.  Rog was up-beat, telling me I was moving at a good pace, and just having someone new to talk to and to tell me about his day and his race was great for me.  It woke me up a little.  Rog had seen a bear, while running with his friend Eva, and not long after he told me this, we came into Aid Station 1, and there she was.  I sat down and drank a cup of broth and a little coffee.  Nothing else sounded good at all.  Eva helped me roll out my quads with my hiking sticks to help them feel a little better, and we got out of there pretty quickly.  The young ladies at the Aid Station were great.  They got me in and out very fast.

It was near 1 am.  My biggest problems were I couldn't move very fast, not only because my quads were shot, and the chafing was just going to be a constant pain that I knew I had to just take, but I was muzzy with being tired.  I can't for the life of me remember what I talked about with Rog, but I know he was rooting me on and upbeat and told me I would do it!  (Though I did note, as we got close to Aid Station 2, he was checking his watch a lot).  We hiked down the road and across the bridge to the Aid Station.  He told me I'd have to get in and out pretty quickly and keep moving.  I agreed, I think.

I think it was around 3:30-3:45 am when we came into the Aid Station.  Alisha was waiting for me, and they sat me down and got me broth and coffee.  I tried to drink, I didn't want to eat at all.  My friend Allison took my headlamp and she and Alisha changed batteries.  My friend Mark came over with heating pads, and put one on my neck and shoulders and that was awesome.  Someone said I should eat, and I said I didn't think I could eat and Mark told them I didn't have to eat, I was awesome and tough.  I was shivering a little and I someone draped my jacket around me. I got my arms in the sleeves somehow, and got my gloves on that Alisha had found for me, and I got up and said, "Lets go."  I gave Rog a hug (I think, I may have hugged him in my head), and we set off.  I knew Alisha would give me the tough truth if I would make it or not.  I knew I was getting shorter on time, and I knew it was going to be close.

Poor Alisha.  The one good thing is I never stopped moving forward.  Sometimes, especially uphills, I was slow, but I kept going.  Alisha and I talked, she told me about how she had run the 50k with Kim, and they had a really good time.  She talked about her work, she asked about how I was doing. I told her I didn't think I was going to make it.  She said it would be close.  She said I had to keep moving, and she didn't know what time it was.  I told her I would keep going until they pulled me.

I was head down and grinding it out.  I have to say I remember having to pull over to go to the bathroom, and when I was finished, we walked 10 steps and there was the port-a-potty, which I laughed about then.  I kept thinking I saw bears, but they were just shadows, and I barely blinked at when passing through the boy scout camp, just called out my number and kept moving.  I kept drinking and eating gels, and the cold didn't bother me, not with gloves, long sleeves and a jacket, and I was warm when we went up a hill.

I just kept following Alisha's purple Hokas, and she kept hiking briskly.  I would tell myself in my head where we were as we went, as we came down to the near the rail road in the dark, and as we came up to plum dungeon before the descent back to Miller farm Aid Station 3, I could see the sky starting to brighten.

Dave and Paula were still there at Aid Station 3.  Dave looked about as good as I felt. I used the bathroom, and asked for coffee.  Larry, one of the regulars at the Aid Station, asked me how I wanted it, and I asked for cream and sugar.  He dumped ice in it for me too, and I guzzled it down, and I started whining that I wasn't going to make it.  He and Robin said I had tons of time until the cut-off, and I should just keep moving.  Larry said something to me that lit a little fire under me, back beyond the film of tired.  "You've never DNFed anything before.  Don't start now."  Or something similar.  I followed Alisha out of the Aid Station, and the sunrise was brilliant pink at the top of Cemetery Hill.

There was not really any more running on the trail at that point.  One foot, then another, step over root, over rock, into soft spot on mud, click-clack of hiking poles, this step down will hurt, ok done, move forward.  Uphill is good, hurts less, slower but hurts less, downhill, suck it up, go down quick, bite that lip a bit, down a bit more, ok. flat bits are great, go quicker, good.  It's ok if you don't finish.  Go until they pull you.  What if they pull me and I can't go out with my Dad on the coming home loop?  Will he be disappointed he came all this way up from Florida and not get to do that 7 miles? Will my friends be disappointed in me?  I should've trained harder.  

We made it down to the final Drake Well loop.  It was earlier than I thought.  9:45.  You can make it!  My shuffle became a little faster.  As Alisha and I got closer to the school, I think I perked up a bit.  I really really had to pee though.  And yes, I had missed the convenient port-a-potty right at the Drake Well loop.  We passed a bunch of runners heading into the finish, and some heading out for their coming home loop.  We were almost to the end of the bike path, and I knew I'd have to pretty much grab Dad and go when we go to the school, so I got off the bike path into some bushes while Alisha made sure no one was coming, then I started my hobbling shuffle to the school.

I don't think anyone thought I would make the cut-off, but we swung in, I asked for coffee, and my friend Rob G. was there.  I asked for an apple, Alisha handed pacing off to my dad, and we were off.  We trotted out of the school area, but I was pretty much back to walking.  I asked Dad how they had been doing, and told him now that I was out on the 7 mile loop with him, I was glad.  I knew I could finish the 100 miles, maybe not officially, depending on my time, but my goal had been to get out here, on this last bit, with him.

He loved the trail.  He walked about 15 paces ahead of me, and warned me if there was a rock, or if were were heading up or down or if it was flat.  He said he can see why we run here, and he never liked the idea of running on the road, but he would like this.  I suggest next time he comes up we could come hiking.  As tired as I was, I had to chuckle at him a couple times, especially on the Hill of Truth, when he kept saying "I think it's the top - it's leveling off"  because, I already knew.

We had no idea of the time.  We met a couple hiking and we asked the time, and it was 11:15. We were about 2 miles in at that point.  I had an hour and 45 minutes.  I kept moving.  A couple other groups of runners passed me.  I kept moving.  Dad and I kept moving and I kept declaring it was ok, I would finish no matter what, and Dad agreed and encouraged.  I kept looking back, and finally I heard voices, and the sweepers were there.  They were very nice when I asked if they were sweepers, and I thought - ok, sweepers - the race must be over.  I'm not going to hurry, they're not pushing me, I'm going to keep going, get off the trail and finish this thing.

We came off the trail, and they were tearing down the tent for the course marshals, and Jane, a friend and volunteer, called out "Do you want to quit, or keep going?  You have 15 minutes to make it 1.5 miles.  That's a 12 minute mile.  Tom Jennings said it's embarrassing to finish once the clock is stopped."

Now.  I love my trail family.  But 31 hours and 45 minutes on a trail, plus being awake for over 34 hours made me slightly... reactionary.  "I'm going to finish.  I don't care if I'm embarrassed!" 

And I started running.  Dad ran with me. We ran to the train bridge and I walked a bit.

"Embarrass this!"  I said, running 30 feet then shuffling again!

The Sweepers (Cyndi, Kathy and Sherry) ran behind me, cheering me on, telling me I had time if I kept moving.  I whined something, then I saw Jason coming down the trail ahead, with Eli.  He was waving his hand in a negating motion, that I wasn't going to make it.  I started to slow down, but then Rich came up behind him and said something like.  "You can make it!  You have to RUN though.  You can't stop."  

So I ran.

The sweepers told me to take off my waist pack, I did and gave it to them.  I think Jason took my hiking poles, and we RAN.  Rich was in front of me, Jason to my right, Dad to my left, and the sweepers right behind me.  They kept encouraging and telling me to take nice deep breaths and keep moving. We passed Alisha and Kim, who cheered me on.  Eli ran way up ahead, and I knew there was no way I was catching that boy.

I don't know how fast I was going, I just know the bike trail seemed a lot shorter than it had the previous times I had run down it in the last nearly 32 hours.  There was a slight slope up to the road, I kind of stopped running right there, power walked for a moment, then boosted back up into a run.  Then I saw Rog and Kris, and I saw Thea, and people in cars stopped and beeped and cheered, and I was almost to the bridge, and I'm thinking, How am I going to make it, am I going to make it. Then another trail mentor of mine, Jeff, is there saying, "You have three minutes!  You're going to make it!"  And that was all I needed to know.
I did it.  31:58:10  Almost 2 minutes to spare...

I... there's nothing like that finish was.  I find it hard to express how the wave of some of the people I care most about in the world carried me across that line and I was so happy and touched that so many people were there for me.  I will never, ever EVER forget it.  Dave finished the 100, after having some similarly poor moments that I did.  Bill finished the 100 miler with Amanda, our new Canadian friend - redemption for him for the previous year (I gave him a hug a little later).  My friend Heather finished, paced in by another friend, Adam.  My friends Rob and Pat finished.

There were many times I wanted to give up.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted them to pull me.  I wanted the buckle, then I didn't care about the buckle.  I just kept moving forward, which seems to be the biggest theme of this entire chapter of my life.  Keep moving forward.  Things do change, things do get better.  You meet these amazing people, you do things for them, they do things for you, not for any reason except you are cared for.

And this is why I trail run.  Because I am loved, and I love these crazy, awesome, amazing real people.  Thank you.  And don't ask me for a while if I'm doing this again...   

Family and Crew

Post race meal fortune cookie fortune.

The collection is complete.