Friday, November 9, 2012

Raise your hand if you've been hiding...

So…here we are. Nearing the end of 2012, and again I find myself amazed at the evolution of a year. My life has so drastically changed in the past 10+ months, I’m not quite sure where to start. But, this isn’t a “dear diary” kind of blog, so I’ll make it short and sweet. I came to Afghanistan in January with the intention of leaving after a few months, but found myself going through a divorce and decided to stay for the rest of the year. I ran a 50k in Sweden in April, then quit running distances beyond 10 miles. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t find it in me to post a RR on Sweden. I am, over 6 months after my last race, and not a concern in mind about the next marathon or ultra I’m going to run. Mainly, running over here sucks. There’s an 8 mile loop, though with the amount of vehicles driving by I’m constantly eating dirt. It was hot (go figure) in the summer, and I just didn’t care that much to get out there for more than 90 minutes at a time. I think I lost hope when a kid was throwing rocks at me over a fence, and decided I didn’t want t be a target for little terrorists-in-training. I’ve limited my distance to 8-10 miles depending on my mood, and have spent more time at the gym than pounding pavement (err, dirt and rocks).

I was gifted with a fab roommate who convinced me to start Crossfit with her, and have since spent about 3 months going from looking insanely awkward to looking like I kind of know what Crossfit is. I’ve never been in to weights, the only thing that doesn’t bore me is running, but Crossfit has more than given me the endorphin boost I’ve been missing. It is certainly NEVER boring.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I was thinking the same thing 3 months ago. “Crossfit? Uggghhh, that clan is so annoying. I do NOT want to join their weird cult”. But guess what? If you’re one of my running pals…hello pot, meet kettle. You’re both black.  If anything I see more similarities between the Crossfit folks I’ve met and endurance runners than any other population. We’re all obsessed with PRs, we’re concerned with our diet, we talk about our workouts when we hang out , we’re religious with our workouts, and God save the person who gets in our way. I visited Crossfit Sarasota for a week or so while I was home on leave, and the people there were so kind and helpful it was no different than running on a track with a diverse range of runners.

Roomie and I were taken under the wing of gym owner/athlete extraordinaire Chris Jernigan who runs a Crossfit 910 in Fayetville, NC. He was unfortunate enough to be stuck in Afghanistan with us for a bit, and taught us the basics. When we started out, I was determined that I would hate it and go back to strictly running, but I found myself feeling great and noticing major changes in my body. I actually feel athletic instead of just reasonably fast, and I’m enjoying the change in pace (err, pun not intended). I’ve been running 30-35 miles a week in the mornings, and doing Crossfit 5 days a week, but I’m going to take the plunge and jump into a Crossfit Endurance program Chris is designing for me to train for the Gasparilla Half  in Tampa on Feb. 24th. No more long runs, no more crazy mileage. Opposite of everything I’ve ever trained for.
Me & Roomie

Who knows, it might be a fun experiment seeing what happens to an ultra-runner-turned-(temporarily)-crossfit.  By no means are my ultra days over, just taking a little side road to see where it leads. After all, that’s how most of us got where we are today. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Desert, dust, dunes, and more dust

Chapter 3

To recap, chapter 1 was a year of fun & adventures, chapter 2 was a year of massive PR’s and pushing myself, and chapter 3? Well…it’s certainly going to be interesting, I’ll give it that.

The last half of 2011 was devoid of races (as you can tell by the lack of posts…).  I was battling an injury which was finally resolved with custom orthopedic inserts (thanks Dr. Lane!—no relation), I started a new, somewhat stressful job, and needed time to take care of myself without thinking about how far/fast I needed to run that day. I suppose it happens to us all eventually. 

Here we are in 2012, and I find myself in yet another unusual situation. I’ve deployed overseas for a while, not really sure what the end point is from here on out. And for those who have seen the “Leatherneck” special on the Discovery Channel, that is now what I call home.  Since most of my friends have no idea what the situation out here is like, I’ll divulge the important stuff.

The desert is very cold in the winter, it’s rather offsetting. It isn’t as bad as northern areas in the States, but you’re constantly exposed which makes it that much worse. Imagine walking a mile to work when it’s 25 degrees out. Not as fun anymore, huh?
When it does warm up, it seems to rain. Afghanistan rain sucks. It smells, it makes the ground all gross…there is mud for weeks.  On top of that, we’re blessed with steady winds of 20-30mph. My ponytail blows out at a 90 degree angle from my head. Not normal.
A typical day for me starts around 8am-9am (depending on whether my bladder or my alarm clock wakes me). I throw on warm clothes and rush out to a porta-potty. A freezing cold one, at that. I head out for a run—whatever distance feels good that day—and hit the showers, which are usually hot. It’s a sad day when there’s no hot water.

I then walk incredibly slow to work. There’s something about walking right after running that makes me want to take my time.  I’m usually bundled up in my ski jacket, scarf and beanie. Apparently I look like I’m ready to hit the slopes, because I’ve been given 2 nicknames so far—Snow Bunny and Snow Plow. Not a big fan of Snow Plow, personally.

I work until pretty late at night, depending on how much stuff needs to get done. So far the days are absolutely flying by, no complaints here. The food, on the other hand, has room for serious improvement. Obviously I’m happy that we aren’t eating MRE’s, but I still feel like complaining. They can step it up a notch. Everything they serve is ridiculously unhealthy. It’s either fried, covered in cheese, drenched in creamy sauce, or straight up dipped in butter. I eat the exact same thing every day…salad with lunchmeat, or a whole wheat tortilla with turkey or tuna. Literally every day. It takes the guessing out of the equation, I suppose. I’m also hungry all the time. My fault, it’s no news to me that I’m a picky eater.
Oatmeal & Peanut Butter...3 times a day.

The one thing I really have going for me is that I have an awesome room.

So anyways, back to running…

I jumped in to running pretty quickly, and after struggling briefly with mere 8-12 mile runs, I’m finally back up to 65+ miles a week. Nothing crazy, but I’m stoked that I’ve remained injury free.  I’ve lost a decent amount of weight right off the bat, now I just have some refining to do. Believe you me, there was weight to be lost. I had entirely too much fun at the end of 2011…

Most of my runs have been spent observing things…like counting camels (I saw 15 on one run!!), watching helicopters take off and land, avoiding being run over by really bad drivers on base, checking out the bomb sniffing dogs and being sad I can’t play with them, and just today- watching a Jordanian in boots and utilities attempt to learn how to ride a bicycle. That was pretty hilarious.

The cool think about where I’m located is that the base is huge. Like, really big. 20 milers are not an issue. There are porta-poties everywhere, which makes it convenient when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and need to go (although this happened the other day—and I found one that was for male anatomy only. Very disappointing.). The sucky thing is that the ground is pretty rough. It’s full of rocks to help keep the dust down and prevent flooding, but it’s a b!tch to run on. Again I find myself battling a rock rage. 

My ankles are perpetually bruised from kicking myself with these little obnoxious rocks.  I roll my ankles at least once per run, though have somehow managed to not fall in a ditch anywhere. It’s actually really dangerous walking around in the dark, there are these massive trenches everywhere that you can’t see until you’re right next to it.
Triple Salomon
 Another annoying problem is the foreigners who are working on base. They stare, glare, stalk…it’s pretty bad.  It’s like they’ve never seen a white chick running before. Ok, so they probably haven’t. But still.

But now…I need to get back in shape. I’m planning to go on vacation in April, so naturally I scoured the internet to find a race. I wanted a trail race, but no more than 50k, and nothing with crazy climbing. My legs won’t be ready for any of that . Low and behold, there’s a 50k in Sweden on the date that I was looking at, and it sounds perfect. Well, it would if I spoke Swedish. But it sure looks nice.

I checked in to the logistics, and I can easily swing through Stockholm on my way back to Afghanistan…soo….yes. This is the one.  If only I could figure out how to register. Anyone speak Swedish?? 

There’s a 10k on base in 12 days, I’m going to run it to guage my fitness. I’m sure I’ll be tripping over rocks and getting blown over by wind, but it will be some sort of starting point. I now have 12 weeks to get ready for a 50k. Plenty of time...?

I’m ecstatic to have a goal again, and that it’s for another awesome trail race in a really amazing place. I know literally nothing about Sweden, so yet another Agile adventure begins.

I've decided the best way to deal with being away from loved ones in a not awesome place is to focus on self improvement. With that in mind, I bought a guitar, am trying to run my butt off, and will learn how to drive stick. No really, we have a car...but it's manual. Don't laugh, but I've never had to drive one before. 

And so begins Chapter 3.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Trail Runner's High: Leadville Marathon non-Race Report

6 weeks since the Jemez 50 Miler in New Mexico, and things weren't looking too bright for my immediate running future. Remember that heel pain I was complaining about during my last race report? You know, the pain from the overly-aggressive trashcan that ran over my foot? Well, it was a lot worse than I had anticipated.

Immediately after Jemez I sat my happy but on the couch for a bit, giving myself some much deserved down time. After a week I tried squeezing in a 5 mile run, but limped home in pain. I repeated this process for a couple of weeks, and finally realized I was screwed and absolutely could not run. It wasn't the running that was the problem, it was wearing shoes that did me in. Anything that rubbed against the back of my heel caused an intense pain that wouldn't abate. I saw an Ortho who gave me a silicon pad thingy to place over the sore spot. When that didn't work, he referred me to an awesome Chiropractor who performed ART and electrotherapy. 4 session and $$$ later, I was feeling much better. 

To stay somewhat active Bryan convinced me to go to Muay Thai practice, which I admit is rather fun (for those who don't know, Muay Thai is in essence, Thai kickboxing...only legit- not like the crap classes they offer at LA Boxing). I had no idea I would enjoy kicking things so much (often times the recipient is Bryan). It's a great workout that is non-stop cardio with a lot of intensity. While I have no plans of ever being a Muay Thai fighter, I definitely am enjoying myself on the mat. Annnyways, back to running. 

I was able to run 5 miles 5 days in a row after a week of ART sessions, though the heel was still not quite better. It turns out I ruptured my bursa (a fluid-filled sac that protects the Achilles tendon), and consequently there was nothing protecting the tendon from the pressure of my shoe. To be clear, I did not injure my AT...but it probably could've reached that point had I left it untreated much longer). 

The Fam
The family headed out to Colorado a week before the race to start our awesome vacation. We hiked, biked, drank, spent way too much time in the hot was fabulous. I had a scare with my heel after a slow 5 mile trudge at 9,000ft elevation, but after a quick ice massage it seemed to be a little better. At this point I was still debating whether I should run the marathon or not...

Run a marathon off of 63 total miles in the past 6 weeks of "training"? Or more importantly, run a marathon with the potential of re-aggravating my heel? 

Leading up to Saturday, the signs of injury continued to diminish. I decided on Thursday that I should definitely run the race, though I certainly wouldn't be racing. I was somewhat frustrated as I had originally hoped to beat my time from last year (5:18), which I felt I was setup to do after the past few months of racing. 
Running through a forest of Aspen trees....lovely

On Wed. afternoon Bryan and I drove through Leadville on our way to Aspen. I stopped in the Leadville 100 shop to finally pick up my award from last year (a sweet gold mining pan thingy). We were greeted by a barrage of packet-stuffing fury, so we stuck around to help stuff the race bags until we ran out of supplies. We stopped at the store again on Friday to actually pick up my bib, which was one to many trips to Leadville for Bryan =) 

Anywhoo, on to the race...which is the only reason you're reading this anyways. 

Saturday, July 2nd: 

My usual partner in crime, Matt, flew out from VA to join me on another epic mountain adventure. This would be his first race at altitude, and his first ever trip to Colorado. I absolutely love sharing the mountains with people (but not too many, can't be crowding my mountain) so I was excited to have him along. 

We stayed up late the night before eating and drinking wine, watching a little Archer, and talking about everything but the race. Finally around 11pm I decided to get my crap together and get ready for bed. For those who are new to marathons (or have yet to run a marathon), you can definitely get to the point where you don't flip out before every race. Only some races ;)

Saturday morning we hit the road for the scenic 40 minute drive to Leadville. We were staying in Frisco, which is my home away from home away from home (not sure how many homes removed it is). The logistics for this race are heavenly. We pulled in to a parking lot directly in front of the start/finish area and headed in to the high school gym to do the leap frog bathroom line (go to the bathroom, get in the back of the line again, repeat until the start of the race). I was tickled to meet a woman (Donna) who recognized me from last year's Leadville race report on my blog. She was nervous about her first Leadville--hope you had a great time, D!

At the starting line...
I performed the usual bodyglide/sunscreen ritual and placed a completely inadequate bandage over the sad spot on my heel for a token placebo effect. After stuffing my new favorite thing ever (Nathan Intensity Pack) with all of my other new favorite things (Cliff Shots- Vanilla flavored, Honey Stinger waffles, Honey Stinger strawberry chews, and of course...Fig Newtons), I felt confident that I would not be lacking in the nutrition department.

So, instead of writing a typical super long-worded race report, I'm going to fill the page with photos taken throughout the race. Since I wasn't really racing, it's better this way...ehh?

Starting elevation: 10,190ft...hooray
Just before the crack of the gun...a real gun, FYI...
 The race starts off with about a mile uphill on a paved road, and the climb continues from there through mile 5. By far the quietest part of the race, with everyone figuring out their groove (and whether they feel like socializing with the other runners). Matt and I took it pretty easy, trying to adjust to the altitude without completely destroying our chances of finishing in remotely good shape.

The view up ahead...

The view behind...

Mining things

Up, up, up and away!

Matt, not quite tired...yet


More mining things

Aid station #1

Mmmm....melons. Big & juicy. 

Matt doesn't quite hate me at this point.

Before long, we made it to my absolute favorite part of the race (the base of Ball Mountain--which peaks at 12,000 ft). I mean, c'mon...look at these views! I still feel it's lacking a moose or something. 

Long trail of runners

Deceptively slippery snow

Can't pass up the chance for a snow angel in July!

One slight step to the right...wooosh! Gone.

Happy me, running downhill. Sort of. 

Continuing the downhill party...though it's about to change.

Yay mining thingies

After coming out of the aid station at the base of Mosquito pass, things sobered up drastically. The experienced  Leadville runners knew the pains of climbing Mosquito pass, while the newbies set off with a sense of dread (or complete ignorance).

Things are getting wet & wild from the snow melt

Matt...still not quite hating me

                                                                               Because everyone has time for a photo montage on a mountain

A 3 mile climb that takes well over an hour, but the views are spectacular

Mile 1: (or, mile 10 rather) 453ft climb, 17:54 split

Yup, there it is...Matt hates me finally.

Mile 2: 771ft climb, 23:38

Little Aid Station 2/3 the way up

 C'mon!! Isn't this worth the pain?

It's starting to get a little tricky to maneuver with all of the folks coming downhill...They definitely deserve the right of way, but the rocks are so tough to navigate around it's hard to predict where they'll place their footing

By now the legs are burning, breathing is nearly non-existent, and it seems like I'll never reach the top. Somehow it never really discouraged me, perhaps the past year of some seriously tough trail runs has roughed me up enough. I felt stronger on the climb than I did last year, though after looking back at my splits for 2010 it seems I had identical pacing up Mosquito Pass. Interesting. Last year I was completely miserable though, and this year I felt pretty decent. I was a little sad at how many girls were ahead of me (at least 15 at this point), and most of them didn't look like they belonged in front of me...but I reminded myself I was not racing and to just let them go. I shouted encouragement at all of the girls, some responding while others focused intently on their footing. I realized they were so far ahead of me at this point I couldn't catch them if I tried.
One of the last switchbacks up to the top.

 Oh what sweet, sweet silhouettes to behold!
Mile 3: 704 ft climb, 22:38 (including messing around at the top to take pictures)
Matt reaching the top just behind me.

 I don't know what we were doing, but it felt like we needed a picture of something after that climb!
13,219 ft...though the sign said 13,185. I think my Garmin was getting a little high...

Last shot before heading back down...

This year perhaps the best part of the race was heading down Mosquito Pass. Mentally I was very prepared for the tough, technical, steep terrain. It wasn't the steepest climb I've ever done, however the added complication of super high altitude made it much more difficult. I thought about the epic 42:00 mile in Jemez climbing up a steep slope, and new that I was mentally in much better shape here than I was in that race. 

I lost track of how many people I passed coming down, but I caught up to at least 5 girls who were wayyyy ahead of me. I completely, utterly, unashamedly tore it up. At one point I came up behind a guy who was doing a good job of picking over the rocks without having to slow down. He laughed and cheered me on, saying I'm the first person to ever pass him coming down the mountain. He stayed right behind me for a bit, but eventually fell back about half way down. The people heading up Mosquito Pass were hooting and hollering for me, I guess it was fairly obvious that I was determined to push it all the way to the bottom. 

My splits from last year heading down the mountain:
8:46,  8:28, 10:11(may have included a stop at the aid station)
Splits from this year:
8:07, 7:25, 7:16--Booya!

The last part of the descent before heading in to the aid station flattens out quite a bit, and it is here that I really start to feel the altitude. I was quickly running out of breath, and slowed down a bit to just coast it in to the aid station.  I fifilled up my Nathan pack for the first and only time in the race, and for those who are skeptical about the complications of a pack at an aid took about 30 seconds to get it filled and re-sealed. Ain't no thang! 

Matt heading in to the aid station at the base of Mosquito

The next few miles were pretty darn rough. My legs were trashed from the long climb and super aggressive descent.  Since this is an out and back course, we knew exactly what we had to deal with for the next 10 miles. Pretty much all walking and a little bit of shuffling :)

Messing around...

Amy in a box!

Taking a minute to enjoy the views

We came back around to Ball Mountain, though this time we looped around in the opposite direction.
Heading back through the snow...slippery coming downhill!

I was feeling pretty terribly by mile 20. Worst of all, my heel wigged out pretty bad by mile 21. It was New Mexico all over again :(  The climing sucked for my muscles, but the pressure on my heel in the back of the shoe was lass than stellar. I kept waiting for the ball to drop and for me to have to really start limping, but it seemed as long as I pushed off more with my left leg and didn't fully extend my right, I could get by. The downhill stuff didn't hurt at all, so I would try catching up to Matt on the downs and let him slide ahead on the ups. Grrrr! Stupid foot. 

I started feeling a little better (muscularly) by mile 23 or so. The foot thing was still a nuisance, but at least I felt like I was capable of running again. 

The last part of the race heads back to town, and as we made our way downhill I saw 3 people just up ahead (maybe .25 mile lead). I realized 2 of them were women, and let the competitive juices kick in. I wasn't tired enough to just let them be, so I informed Matt I had to chase them down (this, after telling him about 5 minutes ago I would kick his butt if he tried to drop 6:30s on the way to the finish).

Matt probably wanted to kill me at this point, but I was determined for us to finish together. We picked up the pace steadily until we started reeling them in. We had a 7:10 mile, followed by a 6:37 pace last half mile...oops. Funny thing was that I felt good. As we approached the finish line I realized I could absolutely keep going, which probably means I was running the race more like a 50 miler than a trail marathon. We crossed the finish line in 6:02, with the commentator saying something about us holding hands. Pretty much everyone thought we were a couple, and seemed to be disappointed that we didn't have a romantic finish. Silly people. 

As soon as we crossed the finish line, B was there along with my brother and a friend, which is always the best part of any race. Having loved ones to share these experiences with is priceless, since they know the struggles you've been through and have pride in your accomplishments--even if it was 44 minutes slower than last year's race. 

I'm sad to be back in Virginia, though happy to report that my heel seems to be completely recovered. I'm running pain free, and still savoring what a great vacation we had.