Monday, December 6, 2010


Hello boys and girls, just a quick note today...sorry it isn't a long winded race report ;)

I mentioned in a post last month that I was in the works of getting a plan together to lose weight and start knocking out more intense workouts. I'm happy to report that my 2011 Race Weight or Bust plans are in full swing.

Taken on 11/12 at 141 lbs


Oddly enough, I dropped a few pounds after JFK (and miraculously over Thanksgiving) so I seem to have a head start. This morning I weighed in at 136 lbs, which hopefully means 11 lbs more are mine to lose! 

The nutrition plan: I'm eating 8-10 "meals" a day, with every meal packing on 20-25g of protein, 20-25g of carbs, and a total of 30-40g of fat per day. I'm essentially eating every 2 hours, which is problematic at times but I'm learning how to cope. I take a few little tupperware containers of chicken and rice to school every day, and eat one of those every 2 hours. I think I have more food in my bag than I do books. I realize this much protein is a bit unconventional for an endurance runner's diet, but I think it's going to stir things up for my metabolism.

I've been struggling through P90X workouts a couple times a week, and I'm already noticing an improvement on my pushups and core exercises. Today I was able to complete the entire chest & back routine (for those who have done know what I'm talking about!), which is a remarkable gain since the last time I attempted it and stopped/fell on my face half way through.

Tomorrow marks my first day back at the track in OVER A YEAR. I'm terrified and excited at the same time. I haven't run a sub-7 mile this entire year, so those 1000M repeats are going to kick my butt.

School is winding down for winter break, which means I finally have time to breath/sleep/bake/clean....or just work out a few more times a week :)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll have even more progress to report!
Who else is trying to tone up before the spring racing season arrives?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

JFK 50 Miler

Who said running 50 miles was hard? HA! It's ridiculously hard!

Who: Me, Matt, & A.J.
What: JFK 50 Miler
When: Nov. 20th, 7am
Where: Hagerstown, MD
Why: I wanted to see if I could run 50 miles. I know there are a lot of mega hard 50s out there (especially in the west), but those require a lot of walking. JFK is notorious for the long, dreaded, boring flat portion along the C&O canal, and other than the first part on the AT there is little walking required.

How: The story begins…

In the days leading up to JFK, I was not resting as well as I would have liked. Bryan and I flew to Austin, TX to attend The Running Event (TRE) as Endurasoak vendors. 
Bryan working the booth...

We had a great time out there, made a few connections and sold a lot of Endurasoak to various specialty running stores. We spent all day every day on our feet, and got very little sleep. I also found it very hard to pass up the $3 margaritas and hoards of Tex-Mex restaurants. 
Trying not to look as exhausted as I felt...I think I failed.

We made it home Friday at about 1pm, after less than 2 hours of sleep the night before. We did manage to squeeze in a 4 mile run along the lakefront path, but otherwise not a lot of running this week. 

I cooked a pasta dinner Friday night for Matt, AJ and I (and did NOT do the dishes after dinner), and got busy getting my gear together. Saturday morning I woke up before 4am for the 3rd time that week, though the other times were to catch a plane. We had a quiet car ride to the Boonsboro high school where we were to pick up our bibs and wait for the fun to begin. I had one major butterfly moment, but otherwise my nerves were pretty calm.
Weapon of choice: Salomon Wings2 + Gaitors (keeps the rocks out of your shoes)

We sat on the floor in the gymnasium and watched as hundreds of runners crammed in to the gym waiting for the pre-race brief to start. I really got a sense for just how big this races was going to be. I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd and wished everyone good luck.

Packed Gym

After the pre-race brief, all of the runners swarmed out of the gym and walked the 10 minutes to the starting line. It was amazing how crowded the start was, I felt like I was in a large-sized marathon. It was chilly at the start, I think around 38-40 (forgot to check). I was shivering in my shorts, singlet, and arm warmers…but was very thankful for wearing thick gloves and a headband.
AJ, Matt, and I being super reflective

Everyone was standing shoulder to shoulder, seemingly fighting for the best vantage point. The race finally started, I don’t even recall a countdown or any sort of announcement. I just remember everyone started running.

In a 50 mile race it seems fairly obvious that you should start off slow. I was amazed at how many people were clicking off a sub8 pace… no worries, I knew I would catch them later. Matt and I picked our way through the crowd, while AJ stayed back and did his thing. The first 3 miles of the race were on the asphalt, with very long hills going up, up, up.  It was hard holding back, but knowing how many miles we had to go kept me in check.

Before hitting the 5k timing mat, another running friend caught up to us. Joe came down from Maine to run, and he was in great shape to have a killer time. We stuck together for a couple of miles, but once we hit the technical portion on the AT he was off. Matt and I finally walked our first hill around mile 5 or so, which was on an asphalt bike path going through the woods. There were tons of people leap-frogging back and forth, I had to practice considerable self restraint to let them all go.  I took my first gel and lost a glove, but thankfully someone behind me shouted “glove” and I scooted back down to pick it up.

We started getting in to the technical section of the Appalachian Trail (AT), though my recollection of mileage is a little foggy.  The first 100m on the singletrack was filled with rocks and a tricky downhill portion. I was frustrated with the people in front of me who were walking (C’mon people!), I just wanted to let my inner mountain goat out and run down the rocks. Eventually Matt and I were able to pick off runners, though we were careful not to be too aggressive too early.

Finally my inner mountain goat was fed up with running, and I started getting frustrated with all the rocks. It’s one thing to have giant slabs of rock that you can run on, it’s another thing to have 6”-10” rocks jutting out of the ground, waiting to break your ankle. Unfortunately these were the latter. A couple of girls came up behind me and I let them pass, I realized that I was starting to get sloppy with my footing, and I didn’t want to force anything. This was not a good section to find yourself face planting on the ground.  (later we learned someone had a really bad fall and busted their face brutally on the rocks).

To add to the frustration, we started passing the walkers who started at 5am. They were mostly really, really old folks who didn’t have the greatest hearing…but they were really good about trying to get out of the way. Sometimes. I was stoked to look at my watch and see that we were close to the aid station just after mile 9, where I knew Bryan would be waiting for us with our bowl of goodies. I was starting to get hungry, and was anxious to eat a cliff bar to avoid going in to calorie depletion too early in the race.

We came down a fire trail with big logs to leap over, and I had a blast shooting down them and hurdling the logs. Most people were a little more timid about it, but I didn’t care…I was having too much fun. We got held up behind a few runners coming down a couple steep switch backs, and they were going so slow I didn’t have any patience to wait for them to get down. I skirted up the side of the mountain and cut them off on the switchback, before racing down in to the open field of cheering spectators. It was amazing how many people were out there, hundreds if not more. It was a strange feeling to come out of the enclosed, quiet woods out in to a large, bright, wide open field roaring with noise.

I heard a friend yell my name, but never saw Bryan. I went over to the aid station and started to fill my water and got frustrated that I didn’t know where Bryan was. This was his first time to ever crew for one of my races, so I don’t think he realized that it’s impossible for runners to spot their families unless they really make themselves known. He seemed to figure it out and ran over to me when I was about ready to take off and offered my bowl of stuff. Which was still in the ZIPPED gallon bag. Now that I think about it, my reaction was pretty silly. I screamed at him to dump out the bag so I could get what I needed. I had heavy gloves on and couldn’t open a zipper, let alone rifle through the bag. He obliged, somewhat surprised at my reaction, and I grabbed my cliff bar before taking off through the woods again.

I was a little frustrated for a few minutes with Bryan, because I was afraid that he had no idea what he was doing. He’s always resourceful and an intelligent guy, so I didn’t try to micromanage him before the race. I started to get worried that he would forget my stuff at the other aid stations, or worse…he wouldn’t make it there before I made it through. I told myself to chill, since he was doing me a huge favor out there and I really shouldn’t be freaking out about it.

Miles 9.5-16 were very technical again. If it wasn’t a steep uphill, it was covered in rocks. To make matters worse the leaf coverage on the ground was significant. Most of the rocks were covered at least half way, if not all the way. We walked a couple of hills, never more than 30 seconds or so of walking at a time. Matt and I both admitted to being excited about the flat C&O canal portion up ahead. We knew the canal would get insanely boring, but we were starting to get sick of the congested trails and suicidal rocks.

Finally we came up to the dreaded switchbacks. We heard a lot of runners talking in anticipation of the steep switchbacks, so we really didn’t know what to think. I was looking forward to it in a sick, masochistic sort of way. Of course, once you’re down the switchbacks you’re done with the AT…so that was motivation enough. I thought I would run down them aggressively, but under control. Boy was I wrong!

The switchbacks were such sharp turns there was no chance to really run fast down them. There was one section that had a volunteer sitting at probably the steepest of the turns, and we joked that he was the catcher to make sure no one fell over the side. To make matters worse, the ground was still covered in rocks! C’mon! Finally, this seemed to be the most highly concentrated spot of 5am walkers and senior citizens. I give mad props to these folks for completing the 50 miler, and I am amazed that they made it down the trail in one piece. It was really hard passing them on the turns, but once I heard the roar of the crowd up ahead I took off and bullied my way down the mountain. I was careful to let the seniors have their space, but I wasn’t going to be walking in to the aid station.

With a hop, skip, and a giant leap I was out of the woods and on a trail that cut through a tunnel of spectators. I got a couple high fives from some local runner friends, and saw Bryan almost immediately. My previous fears were completely abated, and he showed he was more than up to the task for taking care of me. I felt like a jerk for yelling at him at the last aid station, and made a point to kiss him and shout “I love you!”. I also saw a good friend Ron who came all the way down from NH to help crew. I wonder if that had something to do with Bryan’s sudden improvement in race support ;) Ron’s been a pacer for multiple events, and as a runner himself he knows what we needed.

Without delaying any further, Matt and I took off through the trees and found ourselves on the canal. I was amazed at how fast the first 16 miles flew by on the AT…even with the tough technical sections. We tried to dial in to a 9:00 pace, and hoped to run that for the entire length of the canal (26.3 miles). We figured a 4 hour marathon was pretty manageable, and hoped to hold on for the final 8 miles.

I felt pretty frustrated for the first few miles on the canal. I felt every single mile that we ran. I was expecting a 9:00 pace to feel like nothing, just another long training run. What I didn’t expect was the tightness and muscle fatigue from the trail to make me feel so lousy. My legs weren’t working right, every step felt like an effort. I had to really focus on moving forward to keep my pace steady. I didn’t think I ran too hard on the AT, but my legs were telling me otherwise.

Matt took off to use the restroom at one of the aid station around mile 20, and I kept going knowing he would catch me. He was all bouncy and moving like he wasn’t feeling it at all. Bastard. I started focusing on not focusing, which was somewhat counterproductive. I heard a guy come up behind me and decided to keep up with him for a bit. We had a nice conversation and I completely forgot about how tight my legs were, but then he bailed to use the bathroom.  Around mile 23 the path went by a camp site that had a port-a-potty, and I realized I had to pee really bad. This would be the first time I’ve had to pee in a race in a really, really long time. I decided that was a good sign since 50 miles requires a good amount of hydration.

I spent the next 5 miles wondering what happened to Matt, and hoping I would see him again. I casually chatted with folks who I was passing, and did a lot of leap-frogging with a couple of guys. There were plenty of aid stations, 1 almost every 2.5-3 miles. I saw Bryan again around mile 26 or so, and was stoked to see his smiling face. At that point the race became more about “how long until I see Bryan” instead of “how long until I finish”.

No idea where this was, but thanks Carole for catching a shot!

I hadn’t noticed, but my pace picked up after I lost Matt. That probably explains why he hadn’t caught up to me yet. I’m not sure when it happened, but my feet started to hurt really bad. Every step seemed to piss me off more and more, not quite the experience I had been hoping for. Interestingly enough, my feet usually hurt at the end of a road race but never in an ultra. I think the surface of the canal was packed enough to bother my sad size 7 feet.

My pace was really starting to drop, I started seeing 9:30s more and more frequently, with little motivation to try and get back on pace. Just when I had about given up on myself, I heard someone come up behind me. I felt like I could match his pace, so I tried…and we started talking. Turns out I was in the presence of ultra-greatness, Ian Torrence himself. I remembered reading about his Western States 100 race earlier in the year, and knew he was in pretty bad shape to be jogging with me. He's also a coach for McMillan (yes, THE McMillan calculator people) and was at the event in Austin, TX that we were at. 

Turns out it was my lucky day, as he was seriously suffering from hamstring issues. We ran together for quite a while, and I never again thought about my pace. He kept me right at a sub 9:00, and encouraged me to go for a sub8 finish. It seemed pretty reasonable, I was actually a few minutes ahead of the goal. He also thought I was close to the top 10 women, which was not exactly what I had wanted to hear.
Ian pushing me along...

JFK has a rule that the top 10 runners can’t have a pacer on the course, which meant that Bryan wouldn’t be allowed to run with me. I didn’t care at all about being in the top 10, but I didn’t want my results disqualified completely either. I was so looking forward to running with Bryan, we’ve been talking about it for weeks. He isn’t a runner, and even though he’s in incredible shape from his MMA training (yes, my husband the cage fighter), 12 miles was going to be a pretty long run for him. I never ask him to run with me in race…heck, I usually don’t even ask him to go to my races. Today was different though, I wanted my husband to run with me and see my struggle for the last few miles. That might sound like a strange admission, but I knew that he would see the side of me that showed I was a fighter. I also knew he’d have to put up with my eminently crappy mood, as it’s hard to run 38 miles and feel “chipper”.

While talking to Ian,  I tried to think about how many women had passed me on the trail, and in turn how many women I had passed. I felt like there had to be way more than 10, because there were many who I had not yet caught up to. Realizing that “close to top 10” could mean top 15 or top 20, I just hoped it was the latter, or that a race organizer would tell me my placing.
Random spectators along the course

Coming in to the aid station at mile 38 where I could finally see Bryan, a race organizer (someone on a bike and a safety vest) told me I was #18. AWESOME! I was relieved to hear that I didn’t have the pressure of being in the top 10, and Bryan could run with me without the fear of punishment. Bryan jumped up and down when he saw me, and hopped right in stride when I came by. We had joked that hopefully my pace wouldn’t be faster than 9:30 by the end of the race, because he wasn’t sure how fast he could run for 12 miles.

My feet were still hurting a lot, and my legs were getting pretty tight, but otherwise I was just excited to have B with me. I was surprised to see Joe up ahead, who was being paced by Ron. Joe had a tough stretch on the canal, so he was just bringing it home at this point. We ran with them for a brief stretch, but I realized that we needed to pass them in order for me to stay in my groove.

Shortly after leaving Joe & Ron, Bryan chatted me up on the many hours of waiting and watching runners. He was asking me all kinds of questions, such as what do I want to do for dinner? I was started to feel completely exhausted, and all I could say was “no”. I eventually said “no questions”. I just couldn’t converse. I was grateful for his energy, but I wasn’t very talkative.

A girl came up behind us (green shorts girl) and tried to jump in to our conversation, but there was something weird about her. Bryan and I just looked at each other and didn’t say anything. As we were coming up to an aid station, she said that she didn’t want to be caught running with a pacer because it might DQ her for the top 10. I said I didn’t think we were in the top 10, she said she didn’t either but wasn’t sure. I kindly pointed out that if she didn’t want to get in trouble she could run a few steps behind us. She replied with “This IS my pace”. Right. Whatever. I ended up pushing it a little faster because I didn’t want to be around her, something weird about the b!tchy vibes she was sending off.

Bryan and I came out of the canal portion (42 miles down!!!) and I immediately felt like crap. I was already feeling the out-of-body running experience, but when we hit the asphalt I wanted to quit. I wanted to crawl in to a ditch and cry for a while, maybe get back up and hitch a ride with one of the cows or something. I couldn’t get anymore food/gu down, and I was feeling bloated from water. I had been taking electrolyte pills, but it may not have been enough.

The miles ticked by soooo slow. I wanted to walk so badly, but I only allowed myself to walk up the steep hill straight out of the canal. The 8 miles on the road were very rolling, and I imagined it would’ve been a fun run had it not been after running 42 miles already. There were cow pastures everywhere, though my eyesight was less than stellar. At one point I asked Bryan if a field was filled with sheep or rocks…turns out it was rocks, but I couldn’t tell. Looked like sheep to me!

They had aid stations just about every 2 miles, and I felt like I was killing myself to get there. I was running anywhere between 10:30-11:30 pace, never walking. I forgot to push the lap button on my watch after coming off the canal, so it’s hard to say just how slow I ran. The volunteers at the aid station were really nice, but I completely lost my ability to speak. They tried to ask if I wanted anything, and I couldn’t reply. I would just walk over to the Gatorade, drink that and continue on. Would’ve been nice to eat, but it wasn’t happening.

Each aid station was a repeat of the last, with me growing more and more demoralized. Bryan was so sweet, he commented on random things and just tried to keep me smiling. He could tell how frustrated I was getting because of how many people were passing us. I had been doing all the passing on the Canal, but now I was getting picked off like the last piece of pie after thanksgiving dinner. Mentally I was a wreck. Every mile felt like 10 miles, and it seemed like the race would never end. My feet hurt so bad, and the tightness in my legs was starting to make my form pretty terrible.

I heard a familiar voice behind me, and Ian came up along side pacing a new victim. He looked at me and asked how I was doing, but I didn’t need to answer. He could see it in my face and in my form. He encouraged me to just bring it in, whatever it takes to cross the finish line. It amazed me how much worst I felt at miles 42-44 than I did at mile 40-42. It made no sense.

After what felt like and eternity, I saw the marker with 3 miles to go. Then 2. 2 miles. In my head, I knew that was close…in my legs, it felt like I may as well be running to Canada. Bryan mostly stopped talking, he ran behind me and I took comfort in hearing him breath. I just needed him with me, I wanted to share this day with him. He didn’t carry any gel for me, he didn’t get me water or pace me. He just ran behind me and let me run my race (or stagger to the finish).

Shortly after 1 mile to go, he left me to finish on my own. We decided he shouldn’t finish with me, because the finish line is reserved for those who have run the whole race. I knew he’d find me at the finish, and locked my legs in to a forced pace. I caught a glimpse of someone not too far behind me, and realized it was a chick. 2 of them actually. That’s it, no more passing Amy.

I don’t know how, but my legs found a 7:15ish pace for the last half mile. I wasn’t going to let anyone else catch me. As I neared the finish, all I could think about was how I would feel when it was over. Would I collapse on the ground? Would my legs lock up? Would I puke? I heard the announcer say “Top 10 female coming in right now folks, looks like it’s going to be a fight to the finish!”. Crap. Serious crap for 2 reasons. 1- That means the chicks are hot on my tail. 2- That means Bryan was illegally pacing me.

I tried not to think about the 2nd reason, and kicked it in like I’ve never done before. It was maybe 50m that I really had to sprint, and my watch registered a 3:49 pace. I know that isn’t possible, but the point is that I literally sprinted my ass off. Definitely a sub 6 pace…

Finish Time: 8:10:46, 9:49 pace.  113/1014 finishers.

Anyways, I crossed the finish and the RD congratulated me on being the 10th woman and commented on my impressively strong finish. I thought to myself, if only he knew how poorly I ran for the last 8 miles…3 women passed me on the road.

The Finish Line

I stood still while they took off my chip, refilled my handheld, and collapsed on the grass. I was in a numb state of disbelief. I ran 50 miles. In 8:10. Before I could reflect any further on the race, the drama began…

I saw the 2 women who came in behind me talking to the RD, wispering furiously and pointing in my direction. I then saw them wispering to green shorts girl, and looking at me repeatedly. Eventually their gaggle broke up, but I knew what they were doing. They wanted to disqualify me. I was crushed. I didn’t care about being in the top 10. You don’t win anything, just a trophy. It’s not like it’s worth money. I ran my first 50 miler, wanted to experience it with my husband, and they wanted to disqualify me because they didn’t crack the top 10. Unbelievable.

I realize JFK has its rules, and I broke them. To be fair, they did not tell us who was in the top 10 on the course. If they’re going to enforce such a ridiculous rule, they should be more diligent telling the leaders what place they are in. Also, why top 10? I can understand the top 3, but there is a HUGE difference between my level of running and the top 3 women. I don’t think it’s fair to impose those regulations on the non-cash winners.

Anyways, as the gaggle of middle school girls disbanded, I called out to one of them and asked what the problem was. She snapped at me that I clearly had a pacer and I should be disqualified. Here’s the weird thing…she actually said “he’s very good looking, but it’s not allowed”. WTF? Anyways…

The funny part is that she thought SHE got 10th place, and I was 9th. She was actually fighting for the other girl who got 11th place. They figured if they got me DQ’d they could get her a trophy. As much as I wanted to bask in the glory of finishing my race, I sat in the grass distraught that they were being so horrible. Who the heck cares? Am I missing something here? Ron and Joe finished about 10 minutes after me, and I explained to Ron and his friend Meredith what was going on.

The cougar who had the hots for B saw me and told me that I’m in luck because I can’t be DQ’d if I never got red-carded on the course. Somehow the way she said it I felt like I was a piece of scum, not someone who just finished a 50 miler. How on earth do these women have the energy to be so malicious?

It wasn’t long before I started shaking and chattering out of control. I was absolutely freezing. My teeth wouldn’t stop clanging together, it was obvious I needed to get out of the cold and in to warm clothes. Bryan still hadn’t found me, but Ron took charge of finding him and getting my clothes bag. Meredith helped me stagger in to the gymnasium, where I was somewhat disappointed to find that there were no soft surfaces to lay/sit on. Who wants to sit on a wood floor after running 50 miles? The alternative of standing wasn’t much better, so I opted for the wooden bleachers.

Even sitting in the bleachers I saw some of the women talking about me. It brought me back to middle school, where all of the girls gang up on some helpless victim for whatever trivial reason. I realize I was in the wrong to have Bryan run with me, but I stood my ground that they did not make a point of telling us our placing, and the last I heard I was # 18 (and keep in mind I was passed by more women after that). Clearly they had no idea who was where. The only women they care about are the top 3, and I was an hour and a half behind them. I kept thinking, if they had just run faster than me they wouldn’t have to try to get me DQ’d…

Matt made it in a little while later, and I was happy to see he was in good spirits. He always seems to be in better shape than me after a race, but I think it’s because he started walking a lot more during the race. I went for broke, and I found it.
Matt and his weird red eyeball

I took a warm shower in the locker room (it’s freaking amazing to take a shower at the finish line, I tell you what…) and changed in to clean clothes. I tried eating a quesadilla, but only got about half of it down before I knew I had to call it quits.

The awards ceremony finally started and after giving props to all of the speedy men, it was our turn. They called me up first to get my trophy, and it was clear that they didn’t care at all about the 7-10 women finishers. They spent a lot of time talking about the top 4 women, and all I could think was please quit talking so I can sit down!!!  So there, I got my trophy…just wait until someone reads this blog and reports me to the JFK RD, and asks me to overnight my trophy to the woman who finished behind me. I realized that the woman who thought she was #10 was probably furious that she was actually 11, and had she known that at the finish line I bet she would’ve forced the RD’s hand and gotten my trophy.
Top 10 ladies (minus whoever went home already)

Anyways, the drama is over. I’m a little crushed that my experience from this race left me with the impression that ultra women can be ultra b!tches. Maybe you agree with those women that I should be DQ’d, but this is my blog and not yours.
Go ahead, take it from me. Just try. 

Just when we were starting to get worried about AJ, he came in the gym. I was ecstatic to see that he finished. His Achilles was majorly jacked up, and we all thought he was going to have to call it quits around 20. He hasn’t been able to run more than 15 miles in well over a month, it wasn’t looking like he could finish a 50. Not only did he finish, but he finished in just under 10 hours (9:59!). So awesome, we all did it!
AJ's pizza platter
Post race:

We went out to dinner later that night, where I was sad to learn that it’s almost impossible to eat after such a hard run. I couldn’t keep much food down that night, and the next day wasn’t much better. I woke up feeling hungover on Sunday, which suck when you haven’t even been drinking! I had a severely tight hamstring that wouldn’t allow me to straighten my right leg at all, which made walking really complicated. It is now Tuesday and my hammy is markedly better, with some improvement from the tummy department. I’ve Endurasoaked twice, and who knows how long I’ll wait before I go for my next run.

The icing on the cake:

Bryan presented me with a plaque at dinner, that is somewhat hilarious and extremely sweet. It’s hard to get a picture without a glare, but it essentially says:

“10 in 2010” with a list of the races I’ve done, and then….
“Hell we may as well make it 11….”
“JFK 50”
“Or 12…?”

Even though Bryan clearly just gave me permission to run another race before the end of the year, I think I’m more than content with how this year shaped up ;)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Throwdown

That’s it, time for a change. I’m tired of being a “big” female runner. I don’t have crazy body image issues (though I'd be lying if I said I am perfectly fine with my looks), but I’ve realized that I could be a heck of a lot faster if I wasn’t carrying around so much excess weight. I think I've been hiding behind trails and ultras this year because I enjoyed not being self-conscious about my racing weight. Every marathon I've ever done, I find myself comparing my body to all of the females around me. The common factor is always this: I am heavier. Even if I end up passing the skinny chicks in the little shorts, it still bothers me that I am not like them. I know that I could be faster if I was lighter.

My (embarrassing) stats:  

Height: 5’6”
Weight: 141 lbs
Body Fat: 22-23 % (not an accurate measurement...according to the scale 
in my bathroom)
BMI: 22.8%
Marathon Pace: 7:22 (Boston, 2010)

After playing around with the Flyer Handicap Calculator (a “weight” handicap calculator)
  it claims if I were 115 lbs, my finish time at Boston could’ve been a 2:56. I realize there are other factors, and this might not be 100% reliable, but that is pretty darn significant compared to my 3:12 at 141lbs.

According to Amby Burfoot’s Runner’s World Article,  marathon pace can be decreased by 2 seconds/mile for every 1 lb of weight-loss due to your body’s increase in maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max). Female runners can get down to a BMI of 18.5% without cause for concern from losing too much weight (I have up to 4.3% to lose).

Now, I’m not trying to get super freaky skinny. I just want to shave off some unecessary fat so I can really start to get fast. If I lose 15 lbs, that’s a potential 30 seconds/mile off of my marathon pace. In fact, now that I think about it…it’s ridiculous that I ran  a 3:12 in the body that I’m in. I have an insane amount of respect for my lungs & legs.

The plan:
I’m getting a nutrition plan made, so don’t worry about me trying to cut weight by unhealthy means. I’m going to spend the winter back at the track with the Potomac River Running crew, and doing P90X (as much as I can handle with running). My mileage will be lower, but intensity is the name of the game after the JFK 50 miler (in 11 days…eeek!).

I have my eye on the Napa Marathon (March 6th). Napa has a net downhill course, with some rollers in the beginning. I’d like to shoot for a 2:59, if I can cut the weight in time. That will be about a 13 minute PR, but I think I have a good shot if all goes as planned. Napa is 16 weeks after JFK, so I’m hoping I can start a 12 week program after a full recovery.

Before anyone comments “You don’t have 15 lbs to lose!”, I say again….I’m 5’6” and 141 lbs. I do indeed have 15 lbs to lose. 126 is hardly “too skinny” for my height. Knowing I could be faster is making me very motivated to start getting serious about my speed.

**Edited to add pictures**

To prove that dropping 15 lbs isn't totally insane, here are 2 old pictures of when I was right at 125 lbs. It was my first BQ cycle, and first Boston. Of course, I was on it wasn't that hard to lose weight :P

Iraq-2006 (125ish lbs)

Boston 2007 (130ish lbs)

The questions is this: Will my new marathon body hold up to the challenge? Is 16 weeks post-ultra enough time to whittle down the weight and get my speed up?

I can only try, and try I will.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stone Steps 50k

October 24th

My decision to run Stone Steps came to me somewhere around mile 15 of the Chicago Marathon. I then had 11 more miles to figure out how to convince Matt to run with me, and see if I could lure anyone else in to the trap. I knew Matt wouldn’t take much convincing, but what I didn’t expect was a willing compliance from Chris, a virgin ultra runner. As fate would have it, I ran in to Chris in the finish area who expressed his race was less than stellar. Matt soon stumbled through muttering a similar sentiment. We all sat on the ground on the completely unnecessary milar blanket pondering the race and how we would salvage our training. And then it happened, I made my move. “You know, you can run a 50k off of marathon training…”. They took the bait- hook, line, and sinker. Chris signed up from his hotel room, while Matt and I signed up in the airport on our cell phones. The race filled the day we registered, so I knew we were meant to tackle Stone Steps together.

Fast forward 2 weeks…

Saturday morning Matt and I piled our gear in the car and made the 6 hour drive to Columbus, where we had reservations for the guest bed and couch at Chris and Stevi’s house. Not only was Chris willing to run with us, but he was willing to put us up for the weekend. I only hoped he would still let us sleep there after the race. We were treated to the requisite pasta dinner and obligatory bottle of wine that must be consumed before a race, as a sacrifice to the gods of glycogen…or nerves.

We spent 30 minutes prepping our fuel for the race, stuffing pharmacy bags with candy corn, candy pumpkins, and shot blocks. Stevi constructed our PB&J sandwiches with Matt fulfilling the supervisory role of an engineer. After a brief debate as to how we should cut the sandwiches, we agreed on diagonal slices as it had more adequate bite distribution than its horizontal cohort. Chris came by to criticize Stevi’s excessive use of jelly,  but agreed on the angle at which the sandwiches were cut. 

We managed to get to bed at a respectable hour, and I slept soundly as I was completely under the influence of Tylenol PM.

Race Day

I groggily opened my eyes and checked the time, 4:45. Good, I have 15 more minutes to sleep. I hear voices outside of my room, and pounding on the door. Matt asks if I’m awake, and I grumble “it’s not even 5!!”. He replies that we are LEAVING at 5. I suddenly realize that in my state of drug-induced drowsiness, I set my alarm for the time we were leaving instead of the time I should wake up. I leap out of bed and throw on my race clothes, and yell out for someone to please toast my bagel. Fear not, fellow blog readers, my extraordinary ability to slide by on the fly extends to even the most unprecedented situations. I was ready by 5:00 and managed to forget nothing, though I had a more concentrated amount of honey dripping on me due to stuffing my face with a peanut butter & honey bagel.

We all piled back in the car and made the 2 hour drive to Cincinnati with our crew captain Stevi and her assistant, Jinx. We pulled in to Mt. Airy National Forest and soon found a parking spot and managed to not hit any of the runners standing in the road in the early morning darkness. We got our bibs situated and stood in line for the bathrooms, which only had 1 stall. This was probably my biggest complaint about the race—they really needed a couple of porta-potties to compensate for the amount of runners and spectators. 
Me, Matt & Chris

I quickly washed down a Gu at 7:45, then the RD called all of the 50k runners to huddle around for the pre-race brief. The course consisted of a figure 8 that would loop through the race HQ pavilion essentially in the middle of the figure 8. The big loop was 5ish miles (I think they claimed 5.3 miles) and the small loop was around 3.2 miles. That meant we would be hitting the aid station every 5.5 and 3 miles, which was great. We’d have access to all of our gear, and could easily adjust whatever strategies needed tweaking. Our fuel would be accessible, and best of all…we’d see Stevi and Jinx plenty of times.

The RD explained that we have to cross the timing mat after finishing every loop, and then pointed in a general direction behind his head and shouted “GO!”. Matt and I were really confused, because we thought we had to start by crossing the timing mat, you know, like most normal races. Instead we followed the herd of runners as they took off down a grassy slope and began disappearing through the woods. Chris was bending over tying his shoes when the race started, so he had to dodge around runners to catch us. 

And we're off!

Soon we entered the singletrack and started focusing our attention on the treacherous terrain. I was behind a lanky guy in a red shirt with a hydration waste pack, and tried to give him some room so I could see the ground in front of me. Matt and Chris fell in behind me, and we spent the first few minutes of the race in silent concentration. 

The weather was cool, a breezy 60 degrees that somehow felt more like 50. We were all worried about the weather, as the high was expected to be in the 80s. So far things were looking good though, so I tried not to worry about what would happen in the next few hours.
I was pleasantly surprised that my legs were feeling so springy. I was tempted to pass the red shirt guy, but I knew that was foolish and we were all better off keeping things under control. The first 2.2ish miles were a very fast downhill, but the terrain was rather tricky at times. I felt more confident in my footing than I ever had, but was still cautious with my approach. There were a few minor climbs, but we didn’t bother walking.

Around mile 3 we came across the dreaded stone steps. Later when I checked my watch’s elevation profile I would learn that it was a 38% grade to the top of the steps. Everyone tucked their head down and plugged away until we had cleared the last step, and then resumed running. 

My legs felt dead for the first couple hundred feet after the climb, but they soon cooperated with a nice downhill segment. There were more rolling hills, up and down, over and over, until we reached Gummy Bear Hill. The first part of Gummy B. is a long, steep, slick downhill. The steepness was enough to give some of the less confident runners pause before running down it, but the terrain added even more technical skill requirements. The rocks and roots seemed to be placed exactly where I wanted to step, but I somehow managed to make it down unscathed. After surviving the downhill portion, it seemed like we crested around the side of the hill only to come right back up. On this climb my watch was boasting a 41% grade, which would explain why my lungs were about to explode by the time I reached the top.
On the slow climb up I was able to look around a little, and I realized that we lost Chris somewhere along the way. I felt bad since I dragged him in to this, but I knew he’d run his own race and be better off for it. I was momentarily distracted from the climb when I noticed a bowl of gummy bears sitting randomly on the side of the hill. Yippee! I grabbed a couple and kept pushing up the hill. 

Matt and I made it to the top and were rewarded by seeing the 5 mile marker on a tree. That meant we were very close to the aid station, and our first loop would be complete. I caught my first glimpse of a girl up ahead of us, but it was too early in the race to care who is ahead of whom. The trail out of the woods and back to the pavilion was smooth and mostly flat. We pushed up one last hill and breezed in to the aid station.

1st Big Loop- 49:25 (9:20 pace)

Stevi  was ready for us, and got to work seeing if we needed anything. I filled my water, grabbed a Gu, and we headed out towards the 3 mile loop. 

We immediately hit a pretty steep downhill with loose gravel, so it wasn’t entirely safe to really open up here. I kept my stride under control, and shuffled down to the bottom all the while praying my feet wouldn’t slide out of control. Soon we were running down switchbacks, only to then run up switchbacks on the next hill. 

We eventually made it up to a clearing where we crossed a grassy field and found our way down in to another trail in the woods. Here we encountered the girl I had seen, and she was running with tall, lanky fellow. They were running a comfortable pace, so Matt and I ended up sticking with them for most of the loop. I chatted up the girl, Alice, while Matt struck up a conversation with her husband. Through small talk I found out that Alice gave birth 16 weeks ago, and was trying to get her trail legs back. I was completely dumbfounded that she was tackling a 50k so soon after giving birth. She said she ran a marathon 2 weeks ago, the same weekend of the Chicago marathon. I started to get an inkling of an idea that she must be more than meets the eye, because she was holding a pretty comfortable pace in spite of her recent mommy-hood.

The couple seemed to slow down a bit, so Matt and I lost them as we wrapped up the last leg of the small loop. We ran essentially all of this loop, with the exception of the steep climb with loose gravel back up to the pavilion. 
Matt being...Matt.

Towards the end of the loop we encountered some people walking their dogs, and a little boy seemed to be in charge of the cutest little puppy I have ever seen. It was a Boston Terrier, but it was the size of a small hot dog and had a giant puppy belly. I wanted to stop and play with it, but I had bigger things on the agenda at that moment.

1st Small Loop- 28:51 (9:01 pace)

Stevi was at the pavilion asking what we needed, and after a quick reply she stuffed my hand with Gu and candy pumpkins. I grabbed my camera and we were off. Matt pulled ahead of me at the trail head and I tucked in behind him. 

We came up behind some runners and decided to pass them, but tried to keep our pace in check. We were both feeling really good and it was hard holding back on the first part of this loop. The lanky guy (Mr. Alice) caught up to use, and we casually chatted while I attempted not to kill myself taking pictures. 
Mr. Alice's legs

Matt pulled ahead because I slowed drastically to try and get some not-blurry photos. There were a lot of spots I would’ve liked to have taken pictures, but the ground was a little too dangerous to be messing with a camera. Eventually I decided I’d had enough fun with the camera, and took off after Matt. It didn’t take long to catch him on the downhills, so soon I was back in our comfortable groove. 

Stone Steps sucked just a little bit more this time, and I tried not to worry how much it would suck the 3rd and 4th times around. 

I obeyed the sign gods and did not whine, hoping I would be rewarded for my efforts. 

Shortly before Gummy Bear, we saw a guy on the ground rolling around in pain. Matt and I stopped to see how serious the situation was, and it appeared that he fell and landed on his kneecap on top of a rock. Ouch. We told him we’d alert the volunteers at the pavilion to look out for him if he didn’t make it back in a reasonable amount of time.
We took off skirting our way carefully down the steep side of Gummy B and came back up slowly on the crazy-steep grade.

2nd Big Loop- 50:21 (9:30 pace)
Matt & I, stride for stride

When we came through the timing mat area, I downed a Gu, drank some heed, and told Stevi I’d be ready for PB&J after I came through on the small loop. Matt and I took off again, tackling the small loop with slightly more confidence after having run it previously. We caught a glimpse of the 50k leader who was climbing up the loose gravel hill as we were carefully making our way down. He didn’t even have to walk, he just plowed up it. Amazing. 

There was also a 27k race going on, and we started encountering the 27k runners on the loop. They were pretty accommodating to either give us the right of way or let us pass them on the trail. Matt and I ran the 2nd much more cautiously than the first time around, we were starting to notice the climbs and realized we should be walking more.

2nd Small Loop- 31:25 (9:49 pace-longer transition made this loop a little slow)

As we came in to the pavilion Stevi pulled out our PB&Js while Matt and I took off our shoes and socks to inspect our feet. I started feeling a blister forming in the same location of my previous blood blister, so I was a little worried that they would be in rough shape. No blisters yet, so I put body glide on my feet and quickly got my shoes and socks back on. Matt wanted to eat his sandwich while stationary, but I was too pumped to wait. 

I took off down the grassy slope, sandwich in hand, with jelly dripping down the side (for those paying close attention, I did eat a sandwich after touching my gross feet. Get over it).
Matt caught up to me and we enjoyed the first 2 easy miles of the big loop, but somewhere before stone steps I lost Matt. I wasn’t sure if he was hurting or something, but I knew he’d either catch back up to me or he wouldn’t. 

A big gust of wind came through while I was on the steps, and the trees above me started dropping acorns like crazy. I was afraid of getting pelted on the head, so I covered my head with my arms and prayed I wouldn’t get taken out of the race by a freak acorn accident. I made it to the top, much more slowly this time around.

I passed quite a few walkers during this loop, and some runners who clearly went out too hard on the first loops. I ended up dropping my candy corn pumpkins somewhere along the way  and had to settle for Gu and gummy bears instead. I started feeling a little warm and realized it was starting to heat up, though the wind helped cool me off.  Right as I headed down Gummy Bear Hill, I caught a glimpse of Alice. She was catching up to me, and judging by my declining speed I was sure it wouldn’t take long. I made it back to the pavilion, starting to really feel the toll of the last climbs up stone steps and Gummy B.

Coming in just before Alice...

3rd Big Loop- 55:38 (10:30pace)- Including the shoe/sock transition

I wasn’t really looking forward to the 3rd small loop, but with Alice now hot on my heels I didn’t have much time to think about it. I managed to get safely down the loose gravel slope yet again, and focused intently on my footing as I realized I was starting to get tired…and thus much more prone to tripping. Alice caught up to me half way through the loop and we chit chatted a bit more. It was nice having some company, and I was still fascinated with her obvious superior ability. She told me she ran all the way up until the day she delivered, and was running 2 days after giving birth. Hard. Core.  
(my favorite picture of the day)

We walked all of the climbs this time, I marveled at my brazen effort to run them all the first time around. Alice finally passed me just before coming in to the pavilion, but I didn’t feel the urgency to sprint to the timing mat on such an insignificant loop.

3rd Small Loop- 35:50 (11:12 pace)

Stevi was pumped to see me come through with Alice. I guess she’d been hearing the locals chat about Alice, and they had completely written me out of the race before it even started. Come to find out, she’s the course record holder and local favorite to win races. At this point in the race, I wasn’t even sure that we were the lead females. The RD never announced anything as we came through on previous loops, and none of the volunteers told us we were leading. In a loop course like this, it’s really hard to know your placement in the pack. I kept passing runners that I didn’t know were ahead of me, and a woman very easily could’ve been up ahead. I’m still a bit miffed that the RD would announce the lead males, but say nothing when we came through.

Anyways, Stevi had my Gu in hand when I came through so I filled my bottle and took off. Alice had a longer stop, but I knew she would catch me. Apparently they announced the 2 lead females were neck and neck, but I was already gone when they made the announcement. Stevi said the RD commented on the fact that I was keeping up with Alice, which I guess is not a common occurrence. I’m sure if she weren’t recovering from her pregnancy she would blow me out of the water.

Sure enough Alice caught back up to me somewhere in the first mile of the last loop. She apologized for being on my heels, and I said I didn’t mind the company as long as she made her move before Gummy Bear Hill. I didn’t want her to coast off of me knowing she could sprint her butt off in the last half mile to defend her title. 

We walked a lot and trudged through the downhill, and I noticed that my downhill pace started matching my uphill pace. Not good. If I can’t run faster than a 10:30 going downhill I knew I had no shot of pushing for the win. Alice said her legs were completely shot, but at some point after mile 2 she made her move and left me behind. I was finally alone suffering through the last 3.5 miles, knowing they were going to be the most painful miles of my life. It hurt to run, it hurt to walk. I finally had my first spill, but landed comfortably on my water bottle. I was sad when I realized I lost some water, I needed every drop.  The stone steps were almost unbearable the 4th time around. Alice was just finishing her climb up the steps as I started mine. I went really slow. I mean really, really slow. I put my hands on my quads to help push off, which in hindsight makes absolutely no sense. At one point I looked to the top and saw…

My legs were sufficiently destroyed when I finally made it all the way up. I had to stop for a second and wait for them to respond to my request to walk, and then finally run. I realized that running somehow hurt less than walking at this point, and actually started to slowly run up the hills. None of the crazy climbs, just the average little hills that were completely runnable the first time around. I passed more people, and realized that I was actually lapping them. They weren’t in a terribly good mood, neither was I. I took another Gu and was pleased with my fueling. In spite of the warm temperatures, I never felt light-headed or dizzy, which has been a common theme in my races lately.

I made it to Gummy B hill and really locked in on making it up to the top. I was so close to the finish, but there was still a 41% climb to surmount. Usually when a race gets tough I mentally withdraw in to a psycho-analysis of self and start to feel angry with everyone and everything. This time there was no such emotion. My legs simply hurt, and I was almost done. No analysis needed. I looked to Bryan for inspiration and envisioned him running up the giant hill in our neighborhood while wearing ankle weights, carrying a heavybag, and being chased by our over-zealous pup. He would love this hill, I thought.
Wishing I had Apollo to chase me up the hill...
Isn't my hubbs a badass?

I then saw the people with the cute puppy making their way down the hill, and this time I stopped to pet the little guy. He squirmed like a giddy little piglet and squealed with delight at being pet. If they have puppies like this in pet stores, I hope I never see one because I will buy it immediately without hesitation.
Up I went, and finally I made it to the top. I forced my legs to run even though they rebelled in every possible way. I came up behind another runner and startled him when I asked to pass. I was so close to the finish, I could finally see the cars in a clearing just outside the pavilion. 

Suddenly, I was there. I saw the clock and felt relief when I crossed the timing mat.

4th Big Loop- 1:02:36 (11:49 pace)

Finish Time: 5:14:02
 2nd Female (Alice finished about 3 minutes before me, for those who were wondering)
 7th overall (out of 82 starters, 68 finishers)

I was dumbfounded when I downloaded my GPS watch claimed we did a total of 7480ft of climbing ( equal amount of decent). Not too shabby at all.

I’ve started to learn that the finish line at an ultra can be a funny thing. Coming from the Chicago Marathon where millions of people are cheering you on, to a small motley crew of volunteers who clap if they happen to notice you’re finishing. The internal sense of accomplishment was great, because I realized that was a hard course and I did my best.
I really, really needed to sit down but they still had to take the timing chip off. I considered just falling over and letting them sort out the mess, but somehow Stevi was able to lead me back to the picnic table where I unveiled the blister that I knew had formed over the last 2 loops. 

Stevi filled me in on the boys, it appeared that Matt shouldn’t be too far behind me, and Chris had just left for his last loop as I was coming in. I asked Stevi if Chris said anything about hating me, or making me sleep outside that night, but he seemed to be in good spirits in spite of the holes in the bottom of his feet.

The sun was hot, so we found a patch of grass in the shade and I finally allowed myself to fall back and relax. Stevi was great, fussing over me and making sure I was comfortable. Jinx was quite happy to have a sweaty runner to lick, so he cuddled up on my lap. 

We waited for the boys to come in and finally saw the familiar Endurasoak singlet that Matt was wearing. We cheered him in, and he seemed to be in a pretty good mood. 
It was only a matter of time before Chris made it through the finish, completing his very first ultra.

The race was definitely well organized, and the volunteers were great. The trails were extremely well marked, and the aid station had a great spread of anything and everything you could possibly want. While this was a challenging course, it’s also a great set up because you are able to loop back to your gear every few miles. I would definitely recommend this race, though I would caution runners to really, really take it easy the first 2 loops.

We eventually made the 2 hour drive back to Columbus, and enjoyed our post-ultra celebration while eating all kinds of fried goodness. Fyi…if you’ve never had fried pickles, you don’t know what you’re 

Thanks again to Stevi and Chris for putting us up, couldn’t have done it without you guys! Stevi wins “best supporter ever” award for her patience and ability to predict what we needed.

After the race, in spite of the dead feeling in my legs, I was hungry for more. I want to improve, I want to take on more challenges, and I want to destroy the JFK 50 miler in November.