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Friday, November 27, 2009

JFK 50 Mile

This was an exciting event for me. I have been intrigued with it for some time, and since RD Mike Spinnler is a team manager for the 100k team, I looked forward to running in his event. Having Devon there and the Ashland boys added to the excitement and helped me feel comfortable in a regionally different ultra running community.

I was really rested up for this race. The easy run with Devon the day before the race gave me confidence in my 'rest'. I laid low the remainder of the day, ending with a nice dinner with Monica Ochs and Devon. I slept very little, got up at 4:00, drank coffee, ate brown rice cereal, banana, and a bottle of EFS. At 5:50 I picked up Devon for the drive from Hagerstown to the town of Boonsboro. Upon arrival I realized the impact of such a large race (1000 participants) in such a small town, as we drove in circles around the schools looking for parking. I was feeling nervous, which made me feel comfortable about the race. In the gym, I found Howard Nippert and Mike, and got to visit a bit.

At 6:40 the hoards walked the half mile to the start. It was finally light, and it promised to be a beautiful day - cool, clear and calm. The race starter lined us up with about 5 minutes to go - shouting at the top of his lungs every minute "FIVE MINUTES", "FOUR MINUTES", etc. until with 1 minute left, he rang out the seconds. Finally we were off amid hoops and hollers of an excited hoard of ultra maniacs.

The first part of the course is paved road, leading up a fairly long significant climb. I kept my breathing and heart rate in control, listening to the banter going on around me. Devon and I ran together, passing Annette Bednosky and Jill Perry to be the leading "fillies", and at 2.5 miles or so we hit the infamous Appalachian Trail (AT). Happy to be on dirt, I scampered along, very mindful in the mostly rocky terrain, but not mindful enough. I took a nice tumble, throwing my gel flask yonder and smacked my quad on a big rock. The man I just passed asked if I was okay, and I assured him I was between swearing, got up and got going. The course dipped and rolled and curved, and the leafless decidous forest was beautiful. We passed through the second aid station, me behind Devon. I had my bottle filled with water and added my EFS, and caught up to Devon as she was coming out of the port-a-potty. We ran out together, this time on a long stretch of paved trail. It began to climb seriously, and rather than trying to keep up, I kept myself in control, waiting for the relentless climb to end. Finally, back on trail, I started cruising, only to have one more dirt nap. The rest of the time on the trail I felt like a spaz, trying to run with some speed, trying to plan every foot plant over the technical terrain.

There were several early starters at this point, and they were encouraging an inspirational, as many of them appeared to be quite senior. Devon had pulled ahead by a good measure, and only now and then could I catch a glimpse of her red hat. The last technical bit involved about a half mile of short switchbacks which were filled with cooperative, cheering early starters. Finally at the bottom, I was followed by 3 runners into the next aid station. I had a report that Devon was about 30 seconds ahead, but I wasn't in a hurry.

I had my bottle filled, and finally hit the oft-described "boring" towpath. It was so pretty that I thought we must be on a wide trail leading to path, but then it became obvious that this was it. I worked on getting into a good rhythm, keeping the HR around 160, hoping to be in the 7 minute pace range. There were still plenty of early starters ahead, and I got a report that "she's just 2 minutes ahead" to "She's seven minutes ahead". I hadn't set my Garmin the way I intended, so the 'real time' pace was jumping all over the place. I wasn't taking splits, but doing math occasionally. I hoped to run 6:28, breaking the course record, so at mile 25 in 3:35 I saw that I needed to run 25 miles in under 3 hours - that was not a good sign, but I felt that I was on pace to run a good time nevertheless. At this point I started running with a local, Mark, and he and I ran together for quite awhile, pushing each other until he finally pulled away. He would never get to far from sight the remainder of the day.

Nutritionally, I thought I was keeping up. I consumed one gel flask in the first half of the race, plus filling my bottle at every aid station with my EFS powder plus water. Once my gel flask was empty I started taking the Hammer gels from each aid station. Occasionally I would drink a coke or some gatorade, just to get a few more calories in. I started taking S!Caps when I felt some cramping in the hamstrings, and continued taking them every 30 minutes or so. Each aid station was manned by capable, enthusiastic volunteers. I was in and out quickly each time, but noticed that I was not given any updates on Devon's whereabouts, so figured she was having a great day.

My energy and pace ebbed and flowed, but after mile 30, my HR started to drop a bit. Sometimes I would feel myself dragging, and then moments later I was rolling. Before the end of the towpath, I saw myself get closer to Mark and another runner, and before long the three of us were working together, coming out to the road at the same time. The hill ahead was 400 meters and I eased myself over it, letting Mark and the other runner get away. When I finally crested, Mark was about 100 meters ahead, and waved for me to catch up. I would have liked that, but was getting no response from my body. With 8 miles to go and 5:43 into the race, I wanted to finish in less than an hour, but my tank was running on low. The climbs were surreal, and the downhills felt like a free fall. The aid stations were plentiful, so I grabbed water and gels with 6 miles to go, and trudged onward to the next one. Before the next aid station, I felt absolutely tanked, but refused to walk. With four miles to go, I did something at the aid station I hadn't done in a race before - grabbed a handful of M and Ms and downed them followed by a sandwich cookie and some gatorade. I was starving. One young man at the aid station said "Cool! You're the second lady!" At this point I was concerned that anyone of the gals back could be starting to reel me in. I headed out, cookie crumbs and all, and very determinedly pushed on.

With just over a mile to go, I turned down aid from the final aid station. I was still moving, just not fast. Ahead I could see the final turn of the race, and the volunteers said I would be able to see the finish at the end of the street. Up ahead, I could see Mark finish, and I found some reserve, pumped my arms and picked up the pace to the announcement of "Is that a young lady about to finish?" Crossing the line, I was immediately embraced by a very long time friend from my home town of Yoncalla, Oregon, whom I had not seen in 20 or so years, but made the drive from Virginia Beach to see me finish. Her daughter, my childhood friend Pam, was with her, and they were introduced to the strange world of ultra running first hand.

Me and my HS friend Pam

I was happy to learn of Devon's new course record, and simply amazed at how fresh she was afterward.

Seven of the top ten ladies - including Monica Ochs (4th) and Annette Bednosky (3rd), me and Devon.

I realize that I did bonk a bit severely, but even so I am starting to pay attention to the looking glass.  I am, after all, 48 years old.  I don't like to think that I am slowing down, but maybe I am.  I will not just roll over, but continue to hang on for dear life.  And come back to JFK again and finish strong!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twin Cities Marathon – 2009

For the 6th time, I returned to Minnesota for the USATF Masters Marathon Championships, which coincided this year with the Open Championships for women as well. As such, it was the only opportunity in 2009 for women to run a qualifying time for the 2009 Olympic Trials, and that meant that the field was loaded. My primary goal was to run anything 2:46 flat of better, and try to make to one more trials before my body really starts to betray me.

I arrived on Thursday to cool, cloudy weather. I settled in, put on my running clothes and ran 9 miles on the tail end of the course. It felt good to move after being cooped up all day, and my legs felt fine. Afterwards Coach Bob and I had dinner, then I settled into my routine of sleeping and eating for the next 2 days. Kami arrived Friday night and Saturday morning she and I took our last run before the big dance.

Up at 5:00 Sunday morning, we both had oatmeal and coffee, and dressed for cool weather. We were bussed to a church near the start of the race, and I reconnected with Mike Wardian and Susan Empy, amongst others. At 7:00, Kami and I went out to warm up. It was chilly and damp, but by race start I was warm enough to don the Strands singlet with arm warmers, gloves, and hat. I was also carrying a flask with EFS Gel that I could easily nip at without having to try and open any packets on the fly.

Running in the masters field were Kami, Susan (last year's winner), Colleen DeRueck, Susannah Beck, and Wendy Terris. These were only the ones I knew about. The open field was quite deep. Again, I was going for time, not place, and hoped there would be a group about my fitness I could run with.

After the final strides, we lined up under the start banner, and with much fanfare, we were off. It's usually crazy the first mile, trying to see where your peeps are and not get carried away. I had my Garmin on and had set it up to show me my overall pace, current pace, lap time, and heart rate. Even in the first mile I checked on my pace to keep myself reined in. I could see Kami about 20 yards ahead of me, with Susan and Wendy. My first mile was 6:16, and HR was about 169. I needed to keep the HR between 169-172 to stay in control, so I was on track. I expected the group ahead of me to pull ahead, but they remained the same distance. Around a turn and up an on ramp, mile 2 came in 6:12. I was please with this, as I felt strong. Cresting a small hill, and greeted by a number of fans along the, I glided down hill past the famous tuba player as he serenaded us. A small uphill before mile 3, and I went through in 6:29. My HR was settling into the 170-172 range, and having my overall average still below 6:15 was reassuring. Mile 4 was quicker with 6:09, and as we rounded one of the many lakes, I hit mile 5 in 5:59. At this point I had my first bottle to pick up from an aid station. I grabbed it, lugged it along for awhile, chasing down the Gel I had taken.

I could still see the group ahead, and I was running with a couple of other women trying to qualify. It was all rather dynamic, especially with the men slowing down, speeding up, passing, drafting, and encouraging. I tossed my bottle, and hit mile 6 in 6:35. The next two miles clipped along in 6:12, and 6:18. My HR was still 169-172 range, and I was feeling pretty excited that I felt strong and like it was going to happen today. Kami and her group were still about the same distance ahead. Mile 9 came, I grabbed another bottle and did a poor job of getting much in before deciding it was too heavy to carry. It was cool, I reasoned, so I shouldn't need that much fluid. My average pace was still around 6:15, and I felt that if I could hold that to mile 20, I could manage to average 6:20 overall with the uphill sections over the last 6 miles.

Mile 10 (6:13) had a gradual climb, and I found myself running with man trying to help me out. He led me by a half-length, and drafted up the hill. We had a 90 degree turn at the top, and I hung on through mile 11 (6:15), and then realized it was starting to feel a bit tough. This was not a good place or time to start that already. I hung on as long as I felt I could without getting into trouble, and finally, giving up on me, he pulled away. I hit mile 12 in 6:24, and it wasn't too long before we turned out of the wind and made a gentle climb to mile 13 (6:20).

My average was getting slower, and at the half marathon my time was 1:22. I was pretty sure I wouldn't run 1:23 for the second half, but that never gave me cause to lessen up. I had another companion who ran beside me for another mile (6:31) before he faded. I was struggling more, and a bit perplexed, but could still see the same group in front of me. Miles 15 (6:24), 16 (6:29), 17 (6:29) were a blur, and I began looking forward to mile 18, where an old acquaintance of mine, Ross, had said he would be. About that time, I saw Susan Empy pull out of the race, with an injury. She saw me and encouraged me to “catch 'em”. Soon afterwards, Wendy started to fade from that pack, and I passed her at about mile 18 (6:37). My eyes were straining for Ross, and I never did see him (it turns out I was too fast for him!), but the thought of having someone there had kept me going that long.

Mile 19 (6:36) ends on an on ramp to a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. I was feeling pretty spent, and my pace average was now at 6:19. I hoped I would still run a 2:48 – that would not seem too bad to me. Cresting the bridge and turning east, I tried to pick up the pace, and that is where I really ran into problems. My HR dropped then jumped to over 200. It seemed like pushing it was not such a good idea after all. I tried consuming the rest of the Gel, and washed it down with water from the next aid station. It didn't really help. At this point, Kami got to feeling good, and she sped out of sight. I took it all one step at a time. Mile 20 (6:33) came and my average was now 6:20. At 2:07, I thought I would still run 2:48 or so. I trudged on, and my HR continued to stay high (187-192). My last VO2 Max test maxed me at 187, but the physiologist had warned me that if it ever goes above that then it is probably due to dehydration. I wasn't making the connection at the time, but in retrospect, I can think of no other explanation. I felt like crap. My next miles were 6:41, 7:13, 7:02. About this time, Wendy caught back up, and I encouraged her on. I was working with another woman, back and forth we led each other, before she too dropped me. Mile 24 (6:50) was probably the worst. I so wanted to be done, and did not feel good. The oddest thing was that although my HR was in the 190s, I could not put effort in, and so I was not even breathing hard, making my trademark grunts I normally do. Finally, mile 25 (7:04) and I knew it was almost done. I could see the Cathedral on the left, and just kept my mind on the finish. The last 1.2 miles were in 8:20l, and when I crossed the finish line I felt absolutely flat and bummed. My time was 2:50:50, which is about 6:30 average. I can't really complain about it, but I apparently am not too old to learn lessons in this game.

One of the most remarkable things about this day was that it was one of my faster performances here (I have run 2:46 and 2:49) and by far the lowest I have placed. I was 10th Master and 50-something female. I find it very exciting for our sport to have so many fast women showing up. There were 24 qualifiers, with 11 of them reaching the A standard of sub-2:39. And how about that Colleen DeRueck? She was second overall in 2:32 at the age of 45. We are in the same age group, so I don't know what my problem is!

I am definitely going to be diligent from now on in every race about staying hydrated, regardless of the weather.