Sunday, March 1, 2015

Training for the Week of February 21st

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

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

2-21-15
Saturday
Skied 9 miles at Oil Creek trails with Kim and Paula.  Broke my ski pole, but kept going.  Took us about 3 hours.  Cold, with a fine snowfall.  Roads were not great.

2-22-15
Sunday
Skied 9.5 miles with Rich and Alisha at Wilderness Lodge.  Sunny and sparkly at first, clouded up a little.  Did a few hills, crashed a few times.

2-23-15
Monday
Walked Eli the half mile home.  All day trip to Pittsburgh and a cold made me slack off a bit.

2-24-15
Tuesday
Walked about 2 miles to take eli to school, plus waking to the gym and cool down after running.
Ran 3.5 miles at the gym.  Worst problem I had was sniffling with the cold I have, which kept me slower than I would have liked, but no other pains.  Did some planks and crunches after.

2-25-15
Wednesday
Skied 3 miles on Ernst.  Sunny but still pretty bitter.  Skis stuck a bit.  Walked Eli to school and back for a mile walked.

2-26-15
Thursday
Skied 3 miles at the Erie National Wildlife refuge.  Broke a lot of trail, I’m sure I burned more calories than I did yesterday.  Fine snowfall throughout, but nice day.

2-27-15  
Friday
Ran 5 miles at the gym on the indoor track listening to music.  I was joined in my run for the last mile by an acquaintance at the college, which was very nice to make that last mile fly by.  I also walked for a cool down and then to pick Eli up which made for 1.5 miles more.  That’s the most I’ve run so far this year in one go.

2-28-15
Saturday
Walked 1.5 miles with the dog and family to do some sled riding.  Skied 6 miles at night on a night run.  Beautiful night with a waxing half moon and starry skies.

Total for the week: 44.5

Sunday, February 1, 2015

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


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

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






Click "Read More" to see more photos!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, October 13, 2014

The People and the Place Make the Race: Pace Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Green Lakes Endurance Run - Pride before a Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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


The view of the clear, blue Green Lake.

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

 Another lovely view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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










Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run - Oh What A Feeling!

I'm behind a few posts, but I'm going to try to be better, so I'm going to do this one while it's fresh in my head, then I'll go back and post about my overnight backpacking trip in early may, and my first "official" road marathon.

So the name of this race is the Highland's Sky Trail Run, and you do feel like you're touching the sky.  After seeing a fellow trail runner's blog post about this gorgeous and challenging run, I knew I wanted to give it a go.  And Jason and I had visited Canaan Valley about 12 years back, and I thought it would make a nice family weekend.

So Friday morning, off we went, traveling the 4 or so hours from home, making a few stops for lunch and gas.  We enjoyed the winding roads through the West Virginia mountains, and got to the Canaan Valley Resort around 2:30.  The resort was really beautiful, with an amazing view out the back windows, and deer wandering the grounds, and the awesome thing was that the race finished right out the back door.  After checking in, getting race info, we decided to drive down to the race start, just to get an idea of where I was going.  The road was teeny, and a bit scary on the sharp turns, but we scouted it out, and got back in time to grab some snacks, and head to the pre-race dinner.  The food was good, and the information concise, and there was a bunch of swag given out ( though I didn't win any, sadly).  I said hi to Nick Billock and his lovely wife and girls as well!

After dinner, I took Eli to the indoor pool for a little while, then headed to bed to try to get some sleep before a 4am wake up.  Eli and Jason had a fun day planned while I was racing, including biking and mini-golf.  

I tossed and turned a little, as I tend to do on race-eve, but I felt rested.  I had my gear on pretty quick, applying body-glide liberally, and we headed down to check in, and head to the race start.  We got to the start around 5:20, I visited the porta potties, put on sunblock (which Jason found silly in 45 degree temps with fog at 5:45 am), but I knew the trail would be exposed eventually, and I don't like to burn.
A little nervous at the beginning of the race - about 200 people signed up - I think most showed up.

Dan Lehman, the race director, and all around really nice guy, started us off at 6 am.  The start was a pretty gently rolling bit of road for about 2 miles, with a water station at the 2.1 mile mark.  We then broke off the road and up a trail.  And did we go up.  This was fairly runnable, but also pretty mucky in places.  It was very gradual up, then changed into switchbacks.  And the stinging nettles.

Very gentle uphill at the start of the trail.

So - I've been stung by stinging nettles before, so I really tried not to get stung by them too much.  I took a few stings on the legs, and grabbed some jewel weed and rubbed the juice on the stings, which I forgot about pretty quickly.  But there were a lot of nettles.  And the trail was still going up.

Nettles to the left of me, Nettles to the right - here I am, stuck in the middle with... other crazy runner folk.

There wasn't a whole lot of chatting on the trail.  People passed me on the flats, but I usually ended up catching them back up on the climbs(thank goodness for so much hill training this spring).  The mud was awful in some places on the climbs - I was slipping backwards on some of the slopes, but overall the trail wasn't terrible... yet.  Besides the fact that it was still going up.

The mist was really beautiful.

Still stinging nettles.  Whee!  Sure - you can pass if you want.  If you DARE!!!

The mixture of hardwoods and pine and rocks and moss made the climb really beautiful.

The trail was also rocky.  And getting rockier the further we went up.  But still muddy too.


Finally the woods opened up to an area called the roaring plains.  The fog was thick, and the wind was cool, but that was ok.  There was a quick bit of confusion with a trail marker, but there were enough people there that we found the trail again within moments.
Foggy, but awesome!

Selfie!  The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.  Ironically, I did have to wear them in the future, because the fog burned off, and there weren't as many trees.

Just a few minutes after we were up in this section, an older gentleman fell in front of me - in front of a group of us.  I didn't see how hard he went down, but he was down, with his arm kind of over his head, and when I got over to him and gave him my hand to help him up, I saw blood on his head.  He had hit it on a rock on the way down.  About 8 of us were clustered around him, and had him sit down, as he was woozy.  A few other runners moved in(one had some first aid stuff), and I backed off, not wanting to crowd, and not having any first aid supplies on my person anyway.  The 10 mile aid station was about 2.2 miles ahead, so I took off, in hope of giving them the information to see if anyone else could help or if they would send someone back.  He had been conscious and talking, but I was worried.  This gave me a bit of adrenaline boost for the next bit, and I was moving pretty quickly even though the trail was pretty much rocks and water and peat.  It made for very squishy shoes.  So did the three big creek crossings with ropes.  

So I was hurrying my way, and heard a guy come up behind me, and he was talking to someone.  He asked if he could pass, and he, and the "guy" he was talking to passed.  The "guy" was a huge bloodhound, running the race too.  I had just been "dogged."  Oh well.  I think he beat me by a couple of hours.  And boy, I bet he was "dog-tired."

Anyway - I got to Aid Station 2, and I told one gentleman there that there was a man down, and he said that there would be sweepers coming through very soon if there were any sort of problems.  I felt... meh about that answer, but I didn't have much to do except go on and hope for the best.  The race continued on a bit of double track, then did a left into the woods.  I'm glad I was following another runner at that point, because I may have missed the turn.  Really everything was really well marked with orange ribbons and orange flags, and when there might have been a question about a turn, yellow caution tape was placed on the ground across the path, so you knew NOT to go that way.  Good stuff.  Now a bit of a picture interlude.

Standard "easy" trail.

Rhododendron lined "rocky" trail.  Pink Mountain Laurel were also in bloom.  The scents along the trail were really good - unless you were standing too close to a runner, like myself.



This is what a lot of the trail was like - rocks with deep puddles in between. You either tried for the rocks, hoping not to slip, or slogged through the water.  I was very splashy most of the time.

So there was a little bit of rolling plains out of the second Aid station, then a sudden down.  And down, and down.  It was rocky, and steep, and muddy.  It's hard to convey in the pictures below, but it was a pretty grueling descent.  At least until the Butt-slide at the end.  It was this section that I missed seeing a branch and bonked my forehead pretty good, then I broke a really sharp branch off of a log that I figured would impale, and a piece flew up and scraped my face.  Go me!

The trail going down - really hard to present in an ipod photo.

The trail is over my shoulder - it was steep, but pretty!

Green!  Oh and rocks on the trail - I did get some running in in this section.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet in the post is the cut-off times.  The race has a 12 hour time limit.  I wouldn't want to attempt to run that course in the dark, even with a head lamp, so I can see why the 12 hour time limit is pretty strict.  Aid Station 2 had a time limit of 9:15.  That was 3 hours and 15 minutes to do 10 miles, that were mostly uphill.  I got there around 8:15, I think.  That gave me a little under 2 hours to make the next cut-off 5.5 miles by 11:05.  I had seen the trails.  My spirit was getting slightly crushed.  But I knew I could do 5.5 miles.  Right?  A few runners that passed me encouraged me.  I'm so glad they did, because I was getting a little negative.  So after a steep descent, a little bit of runnable flat, and another ascent, I reached Aid Station 3.  They told me I had an hour and 45 minutes to go about 4 miles.
Going up out of Aid Station 3.

I started to get down on myself here.  The section was very beautiful, and I was doing as much running as I could through rocks and mud, and I felt good, physically, besides a little GI grumbling.  I was worried about being pulled.  I told myself not to expect to finish, but to keep going at whatever pace I felt comfortable with, and if they told me to stop, I would stop.  There was a voice in my head, that was occasionally telling me I should quit, and go hang out with my family for the rest of the day, and relax and enjoy the beauty of nature... but dammit!  I was in the middle of it.  I was IN NATURE!  And I'd probably spoil my husband's plans to bike and hang out with the kiddo if I got plunked back at the resort.  So I kept going, with those cut-off times chasing me like... trail running blood-hounds...

It was very beautiful - flowers, rocks, pines, moss.

There were many different trails up there - but the orange ribbons were great.  Just as you thought you miiiggghht be going the wrong way - BOOM ribbon!

Really amazing.

There were some nicely built board-walks in the area (though there was mud on either side, so though they did allow for some running, there wasn't much shoe reprieve), and then the trail came out onto a narrow gravel road.  This was the same road we had started on, just well up, near the Dolly Sod's picnic area.  I turned to the right, and headed up a hill on the road, nearly to Aid Station 4, and where my drop-bag with dry shoes would be waiting.

It was nice to run on solid ground for a little bit, but I was also interspersing some walking up the hills.  I let gravity help on the downhills, and soon I was at the Aid Station.  I did the most rapid shoe change; powdering my feet, then rubbing them down with aquaphor, then getting my shoes on.  I grabbed a couple gels, some good old swedish fish, drank some coke, then headed out.  I had 7.5 miles of road to run in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  I headed off.

The road across the sky was really a beautiful thing.  I pulled my headphones on, to help with my movement.  I ran the flat and down as much as I could, but was walking the hills.  I don't think I was feeling bad as much as worried about my pace.  I got passed by quite a few people on the road.  I'm not fast on the road, and I just chugged along.  The road was very undulating.  It was like a big roller coaster, without the g-forces.

There was another Aid Station - Aid station 5, halfway through the road section.  The road itself was not terrible.  I was glad I had brought a stick of sunblock, my hat, and sunglasses though.  I refilled my water, drank more coke, and kept going.  I wasn't eating enough.  I had taken a salt caplet, and was drinking plenty, and had taken an ibuprofen or two as well, and I was eating gels, but not enough real food.  This would come up to haunt me later. I met up with a runner I had met the night before - Kim.  She had caught up to me, and was power-walking and running.  I stayed with her for a while, chatting a bit here and there, but she was much faster up the hills than I was, so I fell back just before we reached the next Aid Station.

The road across the sky.

The view of the on the sides of the road.

Looking behind.

Looking forward.  Aid Station 6 is just ahead!

The ipod photos really can not do this view justice.  Amazing.

My stomach was rather unhappy by Aid Station 6.  The kind folk there offered me some ginger ale, and I grabbed some chex mix, and nibbled it.  I had them top off my bottles, and headed off the road across the sods.  I tried to run here and there, but every bounce made me uncomfortable.  I'd run a dozen paces then stop and walk.  There were no more official cut offs, and I had 6 miles to cover until the next Aid Station.  So I walked.  I got passed by a number of folk, and some were just walking as well.  I finally made the decision to scoot off into the woods and "relieve" my GI issues, just to see if that helped at all.

I mostly walked.  It was really beautiful, so I took in the sights while I was walking.  The mud came back a little bit here and there, but it wasn't awful.  There was another stream crossing and a climb up through some woods, and that's when my garmin gave up the battery ghost.  It stopped at 28.5 miles, so I knew I had about 4 miles until the next Aid Station.  I was feeling a little better as I came up on a couple that had passed me a little bit before, and one of them asked me if I was taking enough salt.  I sad I had taken one, but taking another couldn't hurt.  I took a salt tab, another ibuprofen, and chomped down my trusty old swedish fish.

Starting into the Dolly Sods.



Scrub trees, but incredible views.




I'm not sure when it clicked, but I started feeling better.  I'm betting on the swedish fish. The trail got really rocky, but I started picking it up.  I started passing people who had passed me either on the road or on the Sods.  And low and behold, one of the people I caught up with was the gentleman who I had seen fall near the beginning of the race.  We stuck together for about a mile, then, feeling good that he was ok, and feeling much better myself, I took off.



I came to Aid Station 7.  8 miles to go!  I flew out of there and ran the next downhill.  It was a little narrow, being a horse-trail, but I was definitely making better time.  I passed quite a few people here too, and then was kind of brought to a screech by a ski slope that needed to be climbed.  I powered up it the best that I could, then came to the butt slide.  It was steep.  Really steep.  Rocky and straight down the hill, and I have to say, I ran the best I had all day.  I was hitting all my landing's awesome, and flying down the downhill.  There was one part I had to get down by using trees as support, but when it was even slightly less steep, I took to it, just watching for ribbons on trees to make sure I didn't miss any.  I kept chanting "4 plus 4" in my head.  I would do this, and I would do it strong.

Looking back up at part of the butt-slide.

Looking down the butt-slide.  It was a little rocky.

I came to a gravelly bit of double track that led me to the final Aid Station, Aid Station 8.  I had some more caffeine, patted a pretty Golden Retriever, and told her owner it would get me to the finish, and was off.  The rest was road and a bit of field, and back to the resort.  I caught up to Kim, who's knees were not doing great, but she was power-walking faster than I was walking the last few hills, and it took me a while to catch up.  I passed her, still feeling pretty good.  I was walking a little, but hit the 1 mile to go sign and just felt that relief.  I would make it.

Looking back during the final stretch.

The last 3/4 of a mile was trail, but then it went up.  A few people had caught up to me, and a couple passed me.  I didn't want anyone else to pass me, on principle, so I dug a little deeper and ran up the finally little grassy hill, then I heard the familiar cheers of my husband and son, as well as many other folks.  I ran down the last few feet with my boy, and crossed the finish line in 11:11 - plenty of time to spare.  The RD gave me a hug, and I staggered out of the chute and sat down for a while.

Jason had a blanket set up on the hill at the back of the resort, where all the runners and their families were, and it really had a nice family gathering feel to it.  I took my shoes off, sat in the grass and watched people come through.  I saw Kim come through, then the older gentleman who had taken the spill, and a few others I had chatted with a little during the race.

This was a really tough race.  My husband coined me, "Brave, but stupid."  This race was probably a little out of my league.  I went into it prepared, but I could've been more trained, I'm sure, and I really was not good enough about fluids or food, but I did it.  If there is one thing I have, to make up for not being a speedy runner, is the stubborn-ness to not stop, and I'm glad I had it for this race.  I've never been to a place so beautiful and varied.  I ran through flowing streams, through peat bogs, through nettles and mountain laurel and rhododendron.  I ran through flatlands and boulders bigger than houses, through spongie pine forest and sloppy mud so thick I thought I was going to lose a shoe.  The Aid Stations and the volunteers were great - I tried to thank everyone - and they did keep me going and encouraged me, letting me know I had plenty of time, even when I was unsure.

I'm not sure if I will do this again. I want to go back and spend more time here, exploring and taking photographs with more than an ipod, and without bruising my feet quite so much.  But I will recommend this race to my a little more experienced ultra-runner friends.

And who knows. It's the day after the race... and I know I've said "I won't do THAT again," the day after a race before...

This morning, I felt really pretty good - my feet feel a little bruised, and I burned off some built up callous, but no blisters.  Toes are a little tender, but legs are really good.  We did a couple of hikes on the way home, and though I was moving slow, I feel good, and hoping to run in the next few days.

I also got to talk to Dan Lehmann this morning on the way out, and he really is an amazing guy.  Even if I don't go back to run, it would be a pleasure to bring friends to run and crew for them, and help out where I could.  Great race, had an amazing time, and learned some things, which I think is the best thing about doing this crazy stuff.