Thursday, September 25, 2014

Race Recap: Reverse Goofy

I make a lot of stupid decisions. Like running a marathon. That was stupid. Then, I had the bright idea to run an ultra. Also stupid. So, leave it to me to be more stupid and run and marathon and a half marathon in the same weekend.

Okay, maybe I don't think any of those things are stupid. Perhaps I'm a masochist? A stupid masochist.

So, the reverse's like Disney's Goofy Challenge where runners complete the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday, only I did it in reverse. Why? I don't know. Boredom? Curiosity? Adventure? A little bit of all 3?

The two races I decided on were the Abebe Bikila Marathon and the Parks Half Marathon. The marathon course was on the C&O Canal towpath; a flat, stone crushed trail that is wedged between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The Parks Half was a point-to-course in Maryland that started in Rockville and finished in downtown Bethesda.

The marathon set off at 9 under overcast skies. The temperature was pretty good (somewhere in the 70s), but the humidity was high and that was the real killer. I ran around a 9 min/mile pace and didn't plan to stray too far from that. I was aiming for a sub-4, but whether that happened or not didn't really matter to me. I just knew I needed to run easy so that my legs weren't completely toasted for the half.

I love when a marathon start line looks like a 5K
I found a nice rhythm and settled in for the 26 mile journey. Aid stations were abundant and I made sure to stay on top of my hydration. The course was a 6.5 mile out & back [insert fart noises here]. Out & backs are not my favorite and knowing that I would have to do it twice sucked, but whatever. I did my best to appreciate the scenery around me. The C&O Canal carries a lot of history and many of the old canal locks and lock houses are still standing, which is cool to see.

Towards the end of the first out & back, a light rain began to fall, not that I minded. I was already drenched in sweat. I finished the first out & back in under two hours and I was feeling good. I decided to up my pace just a touch, but was still being mindful of the next day. However, it was hard to ignore the competitive spirit during a marathon and holding back on my pace was an on-going challenge.

In hindsight, it was good I ran this race easy as many runners were suffering from the humidity. In fact, around mile 24 I came across a runner lying on the trail. I stopped to ask him if he was alright and he said he was very dehydrated. I unfortunately wasn't carrying any water, but he told me some other runners went ahead to the next aid station to tell the volunteers to bring him some. He was very coherent, but a little pale in the face. I asked for his name and told him I would make sure water was on the way. Not five minutes later I saw aid station volunteers running towards me with a gallon of water. I described the runner to them and continued on.

I crossed the finish line a few minutes under 4 hours and immediately went into recovery mode. I started stuffing food in my mouth (very cold pizza and a bagel) and pumped my body full of Nuun deliciousness. My legs were pretty stiff, but after a solid stretch session they felt better.

After the race I drove straight to the half marathon packet pickup to meet up with my friend Janine who was also running. I was still in my running shorts and when I went to pick up my bib, the check-in volunteer asked me if I had run to the pickup. I told her I didn't and that I had run earlier in the day. She then said, "Well, I hope you didn't run too far that you ruined your race tomorrow." All I could do was chuckle.

When I got home, I slipped on my compression socks, propped my legs up, ate, watched college football, and ate some more (I may or may not of eaten and entire bag of Sun Chips). I even indulged myself with a delicious fall beer. Beer has carbs too, you know. I also made sure to get up and move around often to keep my legs loose.
With a start time of 7, I was up and at it early for the half. My legs were definitely a bit stiff when I got out of bed, but nothing too crazy. I met up with Janine and her fiance kindly drove us to the start line.

The weather was much nicer for the half. The humidity was gone and the temperatures were in the 50s. I was looking forward to this race. Much of the course snakes through some really pretty park land. I wouldn't classify the course as flat or hilly, but it has a few rollers. The sun was just creeping over the horizon when I headed off.

I knew my legs would feel better once I started running and after about a mile they came to life. That's not to say my quads/calves weren't yelling at me, cause they were. But, in a way, it felt good. I feel a bit more alive on a run when I'm in a little bit of pain. Remember, I'm a stupid masochist.

I held myself back a bit during the first half of the race to gauge what amount of effort I could put in. In my head I was thinking that I would run around an 8:30 pace, but as mile 7 clicked off in 8:17, I knew my legs had a bit more life in them. So, I decided to give it a good go for the second half.

The last 6 miles were very enjoyable. I was doing what I love and feeling great. The weather was awesome, the birds were chirping, runner camaraderie was high and the course was gorgeous. I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to run. It's so easy to take the gift of running for granted.

Finish line in view, I gave it one last burst and completed my 39.3 mile weekend! The reverse goofy was a lot of fun and gave me a good taste of what stage racing would be like. While doing something this stupid might not be for everyone, I encourage you all to find something that presents a challenge and get after it! It keeps running fun and fresh.

Finishing up the half
The Breakdown
Marathon: 3:57:10 - Garmin Upload
1/2 Mary: 1:47:43 - Garmin Upload
Total Time: 5:44:53 (8:46 min/mile avg.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sit down for a bit

The rugged trails of Massanutten
Recently I ran on the trails within the Massanutten Mountains. It was a particularly humid day and I was running a steep and technical section of trail. I never really felt strong on the run, but the endless beauty of the mountains helped divert my attention from the dismal run I was having. Yet, the deeper I got into the run, the worse I felt. Nausea set in and my attitude quickly changed from "I'm sorta having fun" to "This sucks." As the next mile clicked off on my watch, I found a nice rock and decided to plop down for a little bit.

I looked in the direction I came from and it brought the temptation of bailing and heading back to my car. However, looking in the other direction generated curiosity of what was around that next bend. Before I had sat down I was pretty sure that I was gonna bail. But, that curiosity of what was beyond the next bend overpowered me. The unknown beckoned and without giving it a second thought I was back on my feet and on my way again.

The rest of my run was amazing. The dense tree line that surrounded the trail opened up and offered amazing views that I would have never seen if I had decided to turn around. A heavy rain began to fall and brought a rush of cool air that reinvigorated me. Running along the mountain side in a downpour was incredible. I felt like a kid splashing through puddles. My senses were in overdrive and everything around me became more alive. It was simply awesome.

 Views like this make me happy. Notice the dark storm cloud rolling in!
When I finished my run I was so happy that I decided to press on, for had I not, I would of robbed myself of such an awesome experience. The moral of my post? The next time you're starting to fall out of love with your run, sit down for a bit. You might surprise yourself when you get back up.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Race Recap: Hood to Coast Relay with Team Nuun - Part Deuce

To read Part 1, click here.

"It's a two hundred mile relay made up of 36 legs. Each team has 12 runners, divided among 2 vans. Each runner completes 3 legs and blah, blah, blah..." ----> my endless explanation when I try (poorly) to explain what Hood to Coast is. I should just say, "It's a really big relay!"

Nuun had two teams, Lemon Lime and Wild Berry. I was on Wild Berry, rolling in Van 2 (Van Deuce) as runner 9. In van deuce was our trusty driver Vishal and fellow leg runners Kevin, Rachel, Amanda, Megan and Liz.

Friday morning began with my hotel roommates and Lemon Lime runners George (aka Jorge) and Justin bailing early to head to the start line at Mt. Hood. My van didn't have to leave as early so I used this extra time to relax and grab some breakfast with those that still hadn't left.

Van 1 at the start
At 10:30 we all piled into our van/new home for the next 30+ hours and headed off to the first van exchange (where runner 6 (Melissa) in van 1 exchanged with runner 7 (Kevin) in my van). We were hardly outside of Seattle when we hit traffic, then some more traffic, and yes, a little more traffic. We certainly weren't setting any speed records but with Vishal's expert driving and ability to carve through traffic like a knife through butter, we made to the exchange with time to spare before Melissa arrived.

Exchange 6 - Rachel, Kevin, Megan, Amanda, Liz, and Vishal
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Melissa exchanged with Kevin and the race had begun for van deuce! We headed up the road and screamed and hollered at all the runners out on the course. Seeing them really got my endorphins pumping. Finally, the race was here and I couldn't wait for my leg! We caught up to Kevin and gave him some much needed Nuun. It wasn't humid, but it was definitely a hot summer afternoon.

Runners on the road!
Kevin came blazing into the exchange and traded off to Rachel. With Rachel on her way, I headed back to the van to get ready for my leg. My first leg was mostly flat, but fairly long at just under 7 miles. It was also the first leg where the team vans couldn't follow along with the runners because most of it was on a bike trail. Soon, Rachel appeared over the crest of the road and handed off the snap bracelet (which served as the relay baton) to me.

Rachel finishing strong on her first leg!
Rachel and I created a little toe tapping routine for our exchanges.
(Photo credit: Kevin)
My pace was way too fast from the start, but the excitement of finally running took over. 2 miles and an unpleasant side stitch later, I started paying for my quick start. I slowed down a bit and became roadkill for a few runners (which drove me nuts). Yet, I knew I needed to save myself for my next two legs. The bike trail was pretty, but I'll admit it was a bit anticlimactic after all the amazing scenery I had seen on the drive down from Seattle. Soon enough I made it to the exchange where I handed off the snap bracelet to Amanda. Leg 9, done - 8:09 min/mile. Back at the van and it was a quick change into fresh clothes and replenishing my body with some Nuun goodness.

We reached Portland as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon. Portland was where the next van exchange was and where our 12th runner, Liz, would hand back off to runner 1, Elisabeth, in van 1, to start leg 13 of the relay. Make sense? Ok, moving on....

Me being stupid.
Exchange 12 - Portland skyline
With van 1 on their way to run legs 13-18, our van had some downtime before we had to meet up with them at the next van exchange. So, per the suggestion of my teammate Jenny, (who was in van 1 and lives in Portland) we headed to Laurelwood Brewing Company for dinner where I had an amazing plate of pesto veggie mac 'n' cheese. I wanted to eat all of it, but I was afraid if I ate too much my stomach wouldn't be happy with me on my next leg. For icing on the cake, Jenny also offered up her apartment for us to rest and SHOWER! Her generosity was much appreciated and being able to rest at her place instead of in a van was clutch.

Starting our night shift
A little after midnight we climbed back into van deuce and headed to the next van exchange. The overnight hours were probably some of my favorite during the relay. As physical and mental fatigue started to set in for everyone, our van antics and conversations got weirder and weirder. From our rap sing-a-long of Gansta's Paradise at 2am to our in-depth discussions of poo and farts at 5am. When you're in a van with the same people for over 24 hours, there are no filters. If something was on our minds, it was said without thinking twice. Laughs were abundant and gripes were few and far between.

Exchange 18
My 2nd leg (leg 21) began around 4am. Right before I was about to get out of the van to meet up with Rachel, I got real sleepy. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to bring myself from this haze and get my ass running when it was time. Van traffic was pretty backed up getting into the exchange and by the time I got there, Rachel was done and waiting for me. Her leg was a pretty brutal one and I felt bad that she was left waiting for me when she finished. Sorry Rachel!

Headlamp flipped on and a reflective vest adorned with forward and rear blinkers had me looking like a Christmas tree as I set off into the cool darkness of the Oregon backcountry. This would be my shortest leg (5 miles) and it was mostly downhill along a gravel road. I used the downhill and cool temps to my advantage and pushed the pace. As soon as I was moving I came out of my haze and set off to get me some roadkills! This leg turned out to be my most enjoyable. I welcomed the gravel road as I'll take dirt over pavement any day. In tow of each team van that passed by was a large dust cloud that reduced visibility and made breathing a bit hard, but I didn't mind. This leg had me thinking back to my nighttime hours during my 100 miler in June, which put a huge grin on my face. To me, this is what running is all about....being out in nature, getting a little dirty and running with pure joy. It was one of the most effortless 5 milers I had ever run. Leg 21 done - 7:27 min/mile.

As night turned to dawn, a light fog hugged the trees around us. It was so beautiful until 'Traffic Jam 2014' rudely interrupted the party. Unbeknown to our team, police had stop all van traffic flowing in and out of exchange 24, which was the next van exchange. The Hood to Coast website would later report (jokingly, I believe) that it was due to a driver falling asleep behind the wheel. I still don't know why the police stopped all the vans, but until we reached exchange 30, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Traffic jam! Yours truly in the black hoodie in the lower left trying to figure out what the heck was going on.
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Exchange 30
It was early in the afternoon when Melissa exchanged with Kevin. With Melissa wrapping up leg 30, van 1 was done with their running duties and they headed to the finish line in Seaside to greet us and our anchor runner, Liz. Kevin ran a strong leg and then Rachel was off!

Rachel flying outta exchange 31!
I slipped on my running shoes and began to prep for my final leg. This leg would be my longest, just a hair under 8 miles. While my legs felt pretty fresh, I was a little worried how strong I would be able to run given my lack of sleep and calories. I anxiously awaited for Rachel's arrival at the exchange and when she came into view, excitement took over. Vishal offered to run with me and I appreciated his company as we set off.

There was no sense in holding back so I pushed with everything I had left in me. I had some tightness in my left hamstring, but I guess that's what you get sitting in a van for a day and a half. It was pretty warm out and it was definitely getting to me towards the end of the leg. However, I did my best to block out the discomfort by taking in everything that surrounded me. I was running through the beautiful Oregon countryside, constantly reminding myself that I wouldn't be running in a place like this again for awhile. I was surprised to see many locals sitting out in front of their homes cheering us on. Their support helped keep my pace up. The van stopped a couple times along the way to offer Vishal and I water and of course, Nuun! My teammates even snagged a couple great action photos!

Vishal and I
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Showing my wild face!
(Photo credit: Rachel)
Exchange in view, I gave it all I had. I handed off the snap bracelet to Amanda one last time. Leg 33 done - 8:01 min/mile. I was grateful to be back at the van to change out of my sweaty clothes and get into some much needed A/C. But, our race was not over yet. Amanda was on course and Megan and Liz were prepping for their final legs.

As we neared the coast line, a heavy fog quickly turned a beautiful afternoon into a gloomy day. Before I knew it, Megan was handing off to Liz to start the final leg of the relay! As we entered Seaside, I had mixed emotions. Half of me was so happy we were finally in Seaside but the other half was sad that this amazing journey was coming to an end.

We reunited with van 1 and made our way to the finish. Within minutes of reaching the finish line, Liz came into view and we all cheered her on to the finish! After Liz crossed the timing mats we joined her and ran across the finish line as a team. Hood to Coast Relay - done 10:03 min/mile team average with a time of 33:17:37!

Video of Team Wild Berry being welcomed to the beach party!

Success! Team Wild Berry at the finish!
(Photo Credit: Eric)
A race wouldn't be complete without beers at the finish. Cheers to a great race!
(Photo Credit: Eric)
What an epic relay! I cannot begin to thank Nuun enough for this incredible opportunity. It was such an honor to represent this amazing company at Hood to Coast. A HUGE thank you to Megan and all the other staff members at Nuun. Your hard work did not go unnoticed. You guys rock! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I'm sure Ragnar relays have a similar feel to Hood to Coast, but let's face it, if it wasn't for Hood to Coast, there would be no Ragnar. There is a reason why Hood to Coast is known as the "Mother Of All Relays." Thanks to all the race staff and volunteers. You guys make an event like this possible. I'm so grateful that I had the chance to run this relay!

To all my teammates, it was a pleasure meeting and running with you. Each of you carried your own amazing life stories and I loved getting to know you all. I can only hope we get together for another run soon!

A relay isn't about one person, it's about a team.