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Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler, 2016 Race Report

The first thing I did on January 1, 2016 was check my email to learn I had “won” entry into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler via the lottery — which inspired many brash resolutions around training and lifestyle. But my training did not go as vowed. In the winter, I built up a good running base, but didn’t follow through on cross-training or strength/mobility/flexibility work. When spring came, for various non-running reasons, I wasn’t able to put in the hard, long efforts I needed. I bowed out of the Wapack and Back 42-miler; I lost some crucial weeks in June recovering from the San Diego marathon.

I knew that the TRT 100 would present many challenges for me: altitude (most of the race takes place between 7000-9000 feet above sea level, and I live at sea level); elevation gain (over 20,000 feet, which is difficult to train for when my nearest “mountain” has a measly 350 foot climb); and travel (I’d be arriving with Mr P. and Little Boy in Sacramento late Thursday night and traveling to Nevada on Friday for the early Saturday start, meaning I’d start with a certain amount of weariness).

The week before the TRT 100, I took an honest look at my training and decided to downgrade my distance to the 50-miler. Since the 100-miler is two loops of the 50, I’d still see the whole course. I’d have more time to relax on the beach with Mr. P and Little Boy. And, I would rather comfortably race and finish the 50 than suffer and probably not finish the 100.

The travel went well. On Friday, we arrived in Carson City in the early afternoon to pick up my bib and check into the hotel before heading to Zephyr Cove beach. Mr. P and Little Boy enjoyed periodic bursts of snorkeling in the brisk clear waters while I waded and mindfully hydrated.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

Aimlessly Wandering

Aimlessly Wandering

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 3:45am. We stayed at the Carson City Plaza for the shuttle to the start/finish line at Spooner Lake, so Mr. P wouldn’t have to drive me. I had all my gear readied the night before so my priorities were to drink coffee, eat some nut bars, and use the bathroom. I arrived at the shuttle bus early and eavesdropped on other people’s conversations about the race and the course. I felt anxious so every little bit of knowledge gleaned was reassuring.

The bus arrived at Sooner Lake in time to see the 100-mile race start at 5am. I felt a little wistful as the 100 milers ran by with their headlamps. As the 6am start for the 50 mile and 55K race neared, the sun gradually rose.

Sunrise at Spooner Lake

Spooner Lake at Sunrise

The race started with the national anthem and then Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” I ran comfortably in a tightly-packed line of runners as the trail climbed gradually. Some runners already had audibly strained breathing; it always amazes me how people basically guarantee fatigue and misery in the last stages of an ultra in order to gain a few minutes at the start. My plan was to maintain a slow, steady pace, promising myself that if I wanted to go “beast mode”, it would wait until mile 43, where the 7-mile downhill to the finish commences.

The pack was spread out by the first aid station (Hobart) at mile 6. I grabbed some PB&J (my staple ultra food) and filled up my soft flasks. The next part of the race climbed some more to the Tunnel Creek aid station, where I grabbed more PB&J and applied sunscreen before starting the Red House loop — a part of the course known as “the taste of hell.” It wasn’t as bad as all that, though (and especially not as bad as the hell that awaited at mile 30).

After the Red House loop, the course climbed some more and the views got amazing. The trails started to fill with mountain bikers, who were very courteous but added some apprehension as their presence divided my attention. Around mile 20, I tripped and fell in front of three mountain bikers. Luckily I landed in soft sand so I only suffered some surface scratches on my elbow and a heavy dousing of dirt on my quads.

At mile 22, they warn you to fill up on liquids because the next aid station is in 8 miles. Unfortunately, the water tasted horrible — like glue. (I later found out the taste was due to the new PVC pipes that were being used to transport the water. Yikes.) On this mostly downhill section, I did share some miles with some nice folks, and the chatting helped to pass the time going into Diamond Peak at mile 30.

Mr. P and Little Boy awaited me at mile 30. I arrived just before 1pm, which was my optimistic target for Diamond Peak.

Arriving at Diamond Peak

Arriving at Diamond Peak

 

My drop bag was at mile 30, so I changed my socks and retrieved my trekking poles, which I knew would come in handy for the impending 2 mile climb up a ski trail. I sat down for a bit, drinking water and eating PB&Js while smiling like an idiot at Mr. P and Little Boy. I told them to come to the finish line around 6pm, as it looked like I might be able to pull off a 12-hour finish.

The steep, 1600-foot climb out of Diamond Peak was hell, but it was a hell I had trained for. I used my poles to push myself up the sandy slope, passing more than a dozen other runners, some of whom commented on my “nice pace” (although I was moving at about a 30-minute per mile pace). For the first time in the race, my breathing was not so relaxed but it never got out of control.

Miles 32 to 42 are sort of a blur. I was still running steadily but slowly, and felt good. The highest point of the course is Snow Peak at mile 43; it was on this climb that I started to feel nauseous. The views were amazing but there was some serious wind! I realized the altitude was getting to me. I choked down three tortilla chips and some pickles at the aid station; I tried a peanut M&M and nausea quickly welled. Finishing the last seven miles on only water was not ideal, but I knew I could do it. As I took off jogging slowly on the downhill, there were some moments I had to stop, thinking I was going to puke. Breathing became harder. My legs were also starting to feel fatigued. It was a slow jog to the finish and I counted down the miles with a wee bit of impatience.

Reaching Spooner Lake was such a relief. The last part of the race is along the perimeter of the lake, wth the finish line in sight. I could see Mr. P and Little Boy just before the finish line and again, I started smiling like an idiot.

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Nearing the finish

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High Fives from Little Boy

I crossed the finish in 12 hours, 35 minutes. The race director George greeted me and urged me to sit down. He asked me how I liked the course and I said something about how I loved it, it was the most amazing race I’d ever done, and I’m from Boston so it was extra special for me. He commented that I must be very “well-trained” to come from sea level to run without much affect from the altitude.

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At the finish

A nice woman asked me if I need anything to drink. I still felt queasy so I asked for more water. I started to give her my soft flask to fill up and she chuckled. “You’ve been drinking out of that thing for 50 miles. Let’s get you a cup, dear! Wouldn’t it be nice to drink out of a cup?”

Oh yes, it would!

After 20 minutes of drinking water from a cup, I was finally able to eat. There was some Mexican food but I was more intrigued by the ramen soup. There was free beer for runners but I let Mr. P drink mine.

Finishing the 50 miles in 12 hours, 30 minutes is actually a really great time for a low-lander (and flat-lander) like me. I placed 12th lady out of about 50 ladies. And, I did not regret switching from the 100-miler to the 50. I had good training for a 50 miler, but frankly, I do not think I would have finished the 100 miler.

We headed back to the hotel, where I took an amazing shower and we ordered takeout salad and a meat/cheese platter. I sipped wine until bedtime and awoke Sunday feeling stiff but not too bad. Mr. P went for a morning run. We were leaving Sunday night but still had the day to enjoy Tahoe. Overall, it was an amazing race and wonderful little vacation.

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More Snorkeling

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Mountain Adventures

Many months ago, we booked a site at the Lafayette Place Campground in the White Mountains of NH for the Fourth of July long weekend. Mr. P and I have stayed there a couple of times before, but Little Boy had never had the pleasure of camping below some of the most impressive mountain ridges in the northeast.

Last weekend, I ran the Catamount 50K in Vermont, so my plan for this weekend was for more “time on my feet” and vertical as opposed to raw miles. Thus, Mr. P and Little Boy dropped me off at the Lincoln Woods trailhead so I could hit Mts. Flume, Liberty and Lincoln before meeting them at the top of Little Haystack.

I was a bit nervous about venturing into the Whites by myself. Though I’ve hiked them extensively, I’ve always had the pleasure, safety, and assuredness of Mr. P’s company. But I moved steadily and easily through the mountainous terrain, and only slightly freaked out when encountering the numerous ladders up the steep slopes of Mt. Flume (which I forgot all about). Fortunately, I was going up and not down, so my vertigo did not kick in, too much.

It was a windy day. I did not pause for very long at the summits.

Mt. Liberty Summit

Mt. Liberty Summit

It took me about three hours to reach Little Haystack, which Mr. P and Little Boy were ascending from the trail at the campground. Given the time it would take them to drive to the campground and ascend, we figured we would converge there, but I was still surprised to get to Little Haystack and see Mr. P and Little Boy preparing to descend. The wind was wicked strong and cold, and they couldn’t wait for me. But when we saw each other, they went back up to the summit and we cowered behind some rocks from the wind so that I could mow down the most disgusting Cliff Bar ever.

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Near Little Haystack Summit

The 40+ mile per hour wind was too strong and dangerous for Little Boy to continue along the ridge to Lafayette; he had to go down. I had originally planned to go to Lafayette, and I was equipped to do so, but decided to descend with Little Boy and Mr. P for the pleasure of their company.

I *think* I’m speaking subjectively when I declare: Little Boy is an impressive hiker. The trail down from Little Haystack (the Falling Waters trail) is notoriously technical, with the never-ending blocks of rock and slick slabs. We passed people going down — so adept and agile this kid is.

At the campground, we had some well-deserved fun, relaxation, and food. I love this picture not only for Little Boy’s smile, but because this is the picture that could get Mr. P’s  French citizenship revoked.

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The next day, Mr. P was racing the Loon Mountain race, which is the USA Mountain Running Championships. So there were some real hardcore mountain runners there… and then, a surplus of serious, good-looking amateurs 😉

Loon Mountain Start

Loon Mountain Start

Mr. P’s got a bit of goat blood in him, though, so he certainly did respectably in the 6.5 mile, 2500 foot climb. Little Boy and I took the gondola to greet Mr. P right before the final, agonizing climb to the finish.

We cannot comprehend the Hell.

We cannot comprehend the Hell.

Later that day, we took a small hike to Lonesome Lake, which is just a small 1.2 mile, 1000+foot climb from our campground. And it was busier than the Mass. Turnpike at rush hour! But we did find a quiet spot.

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Mountain adventures are the best. Little Boy is proving to be an able and (mostly) enthusiastic hiker. I hope to share many more adventures as he get bigger and exponentially faster than me.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
—Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

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San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon 2016

Time: 3 hours, 39 minutes, 37 seconds. 90th girl out of 2610?! BQ by 23 seconds.

Way back in January, the opportunity to be a charity runner at the San Diego Marathon – fully sponsored, flight and hotel expenses paid – came up through my work. I had to weigh the perks (free trip to and 26.2 mile foot tour of San Diego, where I’ve never been) with the downers (running a road marathon in June, which didn’t really fit in with my 100-miler training, plus massive, crowded road marathons exhaust me for reasons having nothing to do with running, and if I was going to try another Boston Qualifying marathon, San Diego would be a risky pick due to its hills and potential for hot weather).

In the end, the perks won out. I still have some residual road speed from the Hyannis Marathon (an event which, in retrospect, has grown in my mind to become a debacle because I missed my Boston Qualifying time by 4 and a half minutes), but the bulk of my training since March has been slow trail runs with endless hill repeats. Like:

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EEEEk…

The five-hour plane ride to San Diego was deeply uncomfortable. I flew United economy… and I was in a middle seat. The definition of hell. Thankfully, I was flanked by normal-sized people who were considerate with the arm rests. I alternately worked on work stuff (release notes) and read Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, a book about the psychological side of endurance sports. It was fascinating, inspiring stuff.

“Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.” –Paavo Normi, Finnish Runner

As a city, San Diego seemed to me like a cross between San Francisco and Phoenix. I grabbed a shuttle to my (all expenses paid) hotel, which was smack in the downtown.

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View from my hotel room

From there I walked roughly a mile to the Convention Center to pick up my bib. Let me say, I’ve been to Race Expos before… but this was by far the best. Sure, it was crowded and exhausting, but pretty much every exhibitor offered free samples. I mean, that’s what an Expo is about– free samples! (Special kudos to Honey Stinger for their buffet of broken up pieces of Honey Stingers.)

I walked through the Gaslamp District back to the hotel. It seemed like a lot of upper-class chain stores mixed in with restaurants and breweries. The sun was hot.

Headed to the Gaslamp District

Headed to the Gaslamp District

I stopped at a tourist shop and bought tchotchkes for Little Boy and Mr. P.  Back at the hotel, I watched this crazy Animal Planet show called “My Cat From Hell.” I rolled out my calfs with a lacrosse ball and bidded my time until the charity run’s pasta dinner. I didn’t eat much pasta. Jet-lagged, I fell asleep at 8pm and woke up at 3:30am. Walked about 1.5 miles to the start line.

What a scene! Over 20,000 runners. Madness. There were about 30 corrals and I was starting in corral 5 (based on my estimated finishing time of 3:40 — which is the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon for women my age). I noticed I was in the same coral as the 3:40 pace group, which was led by a very small young man who looked like he could easily do 2:40. I was tempted to run with the pace group but I decided I wanted to run my own race and see where that would take me.

Starting Line, Corral 5. Yes, some guy is wearing firefighter gear.

Starting Line, Corral 5. Yes, some guy is wearing firefighter gear.

The race started. I clicked off 8-minute miles, one after another. I felt strong and relaxed, even on the hills. My breath was not only conversational, it was oratorial. Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber.

Another nugget of wisdom I gleamed from How Bad Do You Want It is that, during an endurance sport event, it is counterproductive to focus on the goal. For one thing, it produces cognitive overhead, which has been proven to reduce physical performance. Related and more importantly, it prevents athletes from getting into the flow. I was flowing from miles 1 to 18. Most miles were right around 8:00/mile

The hard part started around mile 18. It wasn’t a surprise. I was getting hot; all my clothes were already soaked with sweat. My breathing was no longer relaxed. I was drinking at every water stop and had a major side stitch from all the water consumption paired with vigorous body movement. And I began to feel on the verge of dizzy. My pace slowed to around 8:20/mile, but it was still okay for my BQ.

I actually had little idea of what my total time was. The clock time at every mile had started when the elites in Corral 1 started; I figured Corral 5 started about 5 minutes back, but I wasn’t sure. And my watch simply gave me the total distance and my current pace. So I knew I was hovering around 3:40. But I still hadn’t seen the 3:40 pace group.

The 2-mile long hill at mile 22 was hell. I was at a 10-minute mile, trudging, spent. Still, I had built in enough of a buffer to stay on pace.

At the crest of the hill, I willed my pieces of rubber to move. Downhill. It’s just 2 miles.

Just before mile 26, the 3:40 pacer guy screamed past me, flanked by 2-3 guys. I couldn’t believe it. I sped up to hold pace with the group, then looked at my watch: 7:30/mile. What kind of a pacer is this? Finishing a 3:40 marathon at a 7:30 pace?!? I fought to keep up. Beside us, separated by cones, the half marathoners were finishing, mostly at a leisurely 11 or 12 minute mile pace.

I checked my watch: Indeed, a 7:30 pace. The finish line neared. I crossed it. Relief.

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Not knowing my exact finishing time, I passed through the gauntlet of medals, food, beverages. I grabbed my cell phone and checked my texts. I knew Mr. P was getting texts about my progress, and would send me my results…

“Nice BQ. See you in Boston.”

I had BQ-ed by 23 seconds! It might not be enough to actually qualify me for the Boston Marathon, but that is secondary.

For almost 10 years, I have been telling people I would never do Boston because I was too slow.

I thought it would never be achievable… not because I tried and failed, but because I never tried. Because I never tried to be fast. Because I thought “fast” was something you were born. Why would a ungainly ex-smoker, ex-overweight book worm like myself ever be able to qualify for one of the most prestigious amateur sports events in America?

I finished in the top 10% overall, top 5% girls. I was pleased. Thank you, San Diego… thanks to the charity I ran for… thanks to Mr. P and Little Boy for all the inspiration you give me… thanks Keith Richards for the guitar intro to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and Lil Wayne for the entirety of “A Milli”… thanks to Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, which primed and awakened my mind for the task at hand.

 

 

 

 

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Charlie Horse Half Marathon: Mud, Sweat, and Beers

Results: 2 hours 14 minutes, 8th girl, 1st 35-39 lady

My 39th birthday this year fell on Memorial Day Sunday. And so did one of my favorite races… the Charlie Horse Half Marathon, run on the bucolic trails (and some roads) of Central Eastern Pennsylvania.

It was our third year doing it. Last year, the race mixed up Mr. P and mine’s ages on our bibs, so I inadvertently won 1st Masters (40+) female, while Mr. P placed 1st  in the 35-39 division. It was sorta funny, but at the time I thought, “Maybe I can never do this race again. Because someone might remember and question why I’m suddenly not a Master.” But of course, no one is that invested in the results of this nifty yet obscure trail race.

I like this race for a number of reasons.

  • It’s a race that Mr. P and I get to do together because it coincides with our Memorial Day pilgrimage to PA to visit family. This year, Mr. P is nursing a knee injury and wasn’t excited about racing, but we were both pretty excited to get to go on a “date” while Little Boy hung out with his grandparents.
  • Charlie Horse is a race with a little bit of everything. It’s billed as a trail race, and yes, the majority is rolling trail with a few steep climbs and semi-technical descents. But the race also has sections of flat, non-technical trail that you can practically fly on. Then there’s a road section, with a loooong descent followed by a killer climb. At mile 12, the obstacles start: logs, mud pits. The last mile is just a grind of rolling trail that never seems to end. This is a race for the versatile runner.
  • Finally, because they have 5-year age groups, it’s pretty easy to win a cool medal made from a real horseshoe. (Probably one quarter of the runners win a medal!) And there’s free beer and BBQ at the finish line, which is at a nice, relaxed country club.

At 9am, just as the morning was beginning to turn uncomfortably warm, the race started – a dash across a parking lot, and then into a river crossing. I don’t care anymore about getting my feet completely soaked within the first minute. (This is also a good race for the runner who never seems to blister.)

The trail climbed uphill for a bit, and then flattened out. At the mile 3 out and back, I counted five girls ahead of me (not knowing if there were any really far ahead I might have missed). My pace was solid on the flat/downhill section; I passed some guys who went out too fast while trading places with two other girls who ran well. The mugginess of the day affected me a bit and I regretted not carrying water.

At mile 9, one of the girls and I encountered some volunteers directing runners up a steep hill. The volunteers knew the girl and informed her she was 7th girl (though I was only a step behind her). This invigorated me and I chugged past her up the hill. That was followed by a long descent on a road. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of long concrete descents in my training, and I went at the downhill with wild abandon.

The subsequent uphill was much harder. Compared to last year, I was much slower due to the humidity and creeping heat. I did pass a number of men and saw some women further ahead, but I took it easy.

After a short descent, the race returned to trail and the obstacles. There was girl on my heels as we plunged through the succession of 4 mud pits.

She seemed full of energy. I asked her how old she was, and upon hearing “29”, I told her to go ahead and pass me.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Today is my 39th birthday!” I told her.

She said something to the effect of “Wow, you’re so old, I’m hope I’m still this fast when I’m so old!”

I finished behind her as 8th girl, first in my age group. I got a medal, beer, BBQ.

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Mr. P finished 30 minutes after me due to his knee. He was not pleased when he finished, but brightened when we dug into the aforementioned beer and BBQ.

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North Face Endurance Challenge, Bear Mountain, NY

Four years ago, I ran the marathon at Bear Mountain (post here —Little Boy was three years old and as cute as a bug!) I was getting back into running after a self-imposed hiatus. I carried about 15 extra pounds and had never run a trail race longer than 7 miles. I had tremendous fear of the Bear Mountain marathon; it was unknown territory in more ways than one. I finished in a rather feeble time of 6 hours, 27 minutes (I recall jogging/walking/stumbling a majority of the last ten miles). I never considered going back to Bear Mountain for a longer distance because it’s not my type of course: it’s technical, steeply rolling, grizzly. I prefer runnable ultras with sustained climbs and descents.

Mr. P., on the other hand, has raced on some of the most difficult terrain on the East Coast, so Bear Mountain is right up his alley. He signed up for the 50 miler. I felt zero envy.

We left for New York mid-Friday afternoon when Little Boy’s school let out. (He was sore at us for making him miss his after-care program fun.) We arrived at the hotel around 7pm, had a surprising dinner at Pizzeria Uno (nice cobb salad — who knew?), then went to bed to arise the next morning before 4am. I drove Mr P. to the start, then Little Boy and I went back to the hotel to (unsuccessfully) try to get more sleep.

I studied the race course map and decided we could meet Mr. P at around 20 miles, which was a nice lake aid station easily accessible by car. We waited by the lake for over an hour; it was clear Mr. P was off his projected pace, and when he arrived he confirmed that the course was more technical and slower than he anticipated (I did warn him!)

Smiles at mile 20

Smiles at mile 20

This poignant-looking picture is actually Little Boy asking Mr. P if he can help connect the iPad to the hotel Wi-Fi after he finished his 50-mile race.

This poignant-looking picture is actually Little Boy asking Mr. P if he can help connect the iPhone to the hotel Wi-Fi after he finished his 50-mile race.

After wishing Mr. P well, we had about 5 hours to kill before meeting him at the 41-mile aid station. We went back to the hotel, rested, went to a WalMart, and showed up at the aid station a good two hours early to play frisbee and football in the adjacent grass field.

Mr. P came through. He was moving okay and was within reach of his “B” goal, which was to finish in under 12 hours. He had nine miles to go and was eager to finish.

Little Boy and I took the shuttle to the starting line. There was an informal 1 km kid’s race that Little Boy started in the back and was frankly not motivated to do. This kids’ race was memorable because, right after the start, there was a toddler stampede that resulted in two little kids getting (harmlessly) trampled by other toddlers and everyone was like “Awww!” and laughing.

Coming into the finish

Coming into the finish

The minutes ticked by. I was anxious for Mr. P to meet his goal of under 12 hours, and at 11 hours 50 minutes, I spied him approaching the finish chute. Hurrah!

Mr. P running with respectable form to the finish

Mr. P running with respectable form to the finish

After he finished, the rest of my day was spent happily waiting on him, hand and foot. However, I was signed up for the half marathon the following morning, which I was a little apprehensive about because of the rainy weather, and because it’s a 700-person trail race.

Trail races with 700 people are not fun. They are crowded, impersonal, tense. It was a thirteen mile conga line, up and down the hills. Half the runners were in a total anaerobic state the whole race. It was hard to pass people safely because many people lacked trail etiquette and/or were wearing headphones and seemed oblivious to others. After the final big climb at mile 11, the pack finally spread enough that I could practically fly to the finish. I had hoped to finish under 2:20, but actual time was 2:35. Do not underestimate Bear Mountain!

The photographer made me laugh by asking, “Didn’t I see you running yesterday?”

 

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TARC Spring Classic 2016, Half Marathon

Results: 2:05, 7th girl out of 63

I raced the half marathon, hoping to inject some serious speed into a schedule weighed down by long, slow mileage. Since I finished the 50K Spring Classic last year in a respectable 5:36, I thought I could maybe do the half in around 2 hours. Alas, a little too ambitious: though it’s a flat, fast course for a trail run, there’s still some rollers and muddy/watery sections. More excuses: the week before, I had a knot in my calf muscle the size of a golf ball that left me unable to run for three days until I successfully loosened it by repeatedly rolling the knot over a lacrosse ball. At work, I was overseeing a major software release, which was racheting up my stress levels to the point I’d wake up at 2am, unable to sleep due to worry.

At the start of the race, I immediately noted the shortness of breath at speeds I should have been able to cruise on. (It also gently rained, which I actually LOVED.)

Still, overall, pretty happy. My calf is recovered and still, inexplicably, almost the same width as my thigh, the software release was successful, and this pic of me around mile 4? ain’t half-bad! Trail racing with the TARC folks… that’s happiness!

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Heartbreak Hill 1-miler

Results: 7 minutes, 30 seconds. Third place!

It was Little Boy’s second year at the Heartbreak Hill 1-miler for kids. Last year, he raced with the 7-year olds, despite being only 6 (because 7 is the youngest age group and we wanted him to give it a go). He finished in 8th place out of about 25, which was very good, and not too surprising because this is his type of race: uphill for a half mile, downhill for a half mile. He’s got the endurance and grit to go uphill and I’ve seen him fly down hills at speeds that make me cringe.

To be honest, Little Boy isn’t very excited about the races we sign him up for (about 3-4 a year). But he does them willingly and tries his hardest and usually seems happy at the end. And he’s getting less non-excited about them, if that makes any sense. I think the competition is good for him. There’s a bit of pressure, but dealing with the pressure and knowing you have to try your hardest if you want that trophy is ultimately a good thing for kids of the sporting kind, like him.

We arrived at the registration about an hour beforehand. After getting his number, Little Boy spent a good 30 minutes on the bouncy house, which was probably an excellent warm-up. Why don’t more races have bouncy houses?

Pre-race warmup

Pre-race warmup

His heat was the second heat, after the 7-year old girls. When the 7-year old boys lined up at the start, boys jostled for spots in the front, and the ever-good-natured Little Boy wound up in the back. The announcer said, “Listen, this is a long race! If you’re fast enough, it doesn’t matter if you start at the front or the back!“ None of the boys yielded their spots at the front.

The horn sounded and they took off. Little Boy was in the back along the small stretch of flat that would eventually climb to the notorious Heartbreak Hill. Some parents where running alongside the boys. Mr. P also took off up the hill, albeit walking, as the boys disappeared from view up the hill.

Starting in the back, next the boy who would finish first.

Starting in the back, next the boy who would finish first.

 

Look at that stride!

Look at that stride!

I waited at the finish. The clock ticked. Around 6 minutes later, the leading police motorcycle came in sight, coming down the hill. I could see a blond boy following it. Behind him, another fair-skinned boy. And behind him… Little Boy!

I started to get crazy. If he was in fifth or sixth place, I would not have gotten crazy… but he was in third and there were two boys hot on his heels. I could see he was slowing and they were gaining on him, and there was still a long stretch to the finish.

I started yelling. Crazy parent yelling. “Go, Little Boy, go! Keep going! You’re in third, don’t let up! Go! Go!”

He made eye contact with me and began to noticeably pick up his pace. I kept yelling. Other people were staring at me but I didn’t care. He coasted into third place at the finish.

“Look at that, the kid who started in the back ended up in third place!” said the smug announcer.

Third place at this race is a big deal. There’s a trophy and you get to talk into the microphone. Little Boy was thrilled.

Talking to his adoring fans

Talking to his adoring fans

 

Third, second, first place

Third, second, first place

“I’m so proud of you!” I told him.

“I’m so proud of myself!” he told me.

He later told me he was glad I was yelling at him at the finish line, because “I knew I had to go faster.” Good. When he’s a teenager, I’m sure he’ll remember my demented hollering differently.

Little Boy was also thankful for Mr. P’s advice, which was to never let the leader out of his sight. Apparently the podium winners all jostled for the lead at some point near the top of the hill.

All in all, Little Boy’s confidence in himself has risen measurably since the race. For all his trophies and medals (the kind that everyone gets), he keeps saying this is his “first real trophy.”

Beaming with pride

Beaming with pride

 

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Runamuck 50K

Results: 5 hours, 39 minutes; 33 miles, 4800′ elevation gain; 39th out of 108th overall, 7th girl out of 36th

Last Saturday I woke up at 6am in a hotel room in Vermont, momentarily disoriented. I had a foggy notion that there was something important I had to do that day, but my waking mind could not grasp it… and then I remembered with some dread… “The Runamuck 50K!”

My last ultra had been the Vermont 100 in July 2015, and it was a doozy. In the months since, I have begun to question… why do ultramarathons? I’ve finished 20+ races marathon distance or more (including 100 miles!), so I’ve got nothing to prove. Been there, done that. I could remain in decent physical shape running shorter distances, and reduce the number of injurious niggles that I must tend to, plus spend more time with my family, and get more sleep, and refocus on graduate school, and possibly even take up other hobbies. Why ultra??

Still, I persist. I signed up for Runamuck 50K as a training run for other, more arduous ultras, plus it’s the third time I’d be running this race (making me one of the very few who has run it every year since its inception; the previous two years, it was called the Twin State 50 and attracted far less people). But I did feel some dread. Running 50K on the hills of Vermont is just hard.

Mr. P and Little Boy came with me. We made a weekend out of it, with Mr. P excited to get his own miles on the Vermont hills. They dropped me off at the start at 8am and I reluctantly let them leave, with instructions to pick me up in “five or six hours.” Compared to the first two years, with about 40-50 entrants, it was quite a large crowd.

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As I stood at the very casual starting line, surrounded by ultra jocks and ultra wannabes, I reminded myself that my goals for the race has little to do with speed, and all to do with the distance. I would not push until mile 25. I would preserve my quads and knees by taking it easy on the downhills.

By mile 4, I was reminded that I do ultras not because they are easy, but because they are hard (to paraphrase JFK). And to paraphrase some obscure ultra runner in the recent Barkley Marathons documentary… “Most people could benefit from having more pain in their lives.” Which sounds (at best) cavalier and (probably) horrible to people with actual, non-self-inflicted pain.

I seriously hate this picture but it’s the only one the course photographer captured of me. I’m the agonized looking lady with the light blue hydration pack and gray/black ensemble between the three runners in the foreground. I was still being cautious at this point.

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I plugged along. As usual, I passed people on the uphills, and they passed me on the downhills. Only to be re-passed by me on the uphills. I got serious uphill endurance. I passed people, but slowly.

Disaster struck at mile 15, right around that halfway milestone that should give a serious mental boost. I was leapfrogging with 3 excitable Quebecois as they scorched past me on the downhills and I plowed past them on the uphills. Coming off a long downhill, I came to an intersection and saw them hiking up a hill to the right side of the fork. Not even checking the course markings, I blindly followed them up the road.

About a mile later, we encountered runners coming the other way. Anguish all around: we took a wrong turn.

The bright side is the camaraderie. I started talking with two guys who I leap-frogged with the rest of the race. In ultras, the camaraderie is key.

The down side was, of course, two extra miles. Fortunately my energy was good, my quads were holding up… and hey. Bonus miles and elevation!

Yes, I was amazed my quads were in good shape! I knew the downhills were relentless and I wanted to preserve them, but then again, these quads have seen these hills before. I began pushing my pace at mile 26, then started to rip down the last miles of the course. I think I passed around 10 people, including my two “lost boys.” My endurance was tip top.

I finished in 5 hours, 39 minutes. I am sure if I hadn’t taken that unfortunate detour I could have done at least 5 hours, 20 minutes. Who knows? I blame myself for blindly following other runners. In any case, I am pleased with the race and my recovery; I think the road marathon training as well as my weight training has been hugely beneficial.

Mr. P and Little Boy also had a great weekend. Little Boy spent much time in our hotel’s racquetball court, and he ain’t half bad! Mr. P got two longish runs in, so everyone was happy.

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Give me the streets of Manhattan!

Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan! — Walt Whitman, “Give me the Splendid, Silent Sun”

This weekend we headed to New York City so that Mr. P could test his road speed in the New York City Half Marathon. He originally entered in hopes of running a 1:28, which would allow him to bypass the lottery for the New York City Marathon in 2017. But just a few weeks ago, he gained entry to the 2016 NYC Marathon via the lottery, relieving him of the pressures of attaining a time that he was not entirely confident he could attain in order to run a marathon he will have already had done.

We cashed in some Hilton loyalty points to stay at the Doubletree in Times Square. It was mile 7 of the half marathon, but right at the starting line for the 1-mile kids race that Mr. P had signed Little Boy up for. It was also right across the street from M&M’s World, which is Little Boy’s new favorite place on Earth.

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While spectating, we caught a glimpse of American Molly Huddle battling it out with a Kenyan Joyce Chepkirui in the Elite women’s race. Apparently the battle came down to a controversial photo finish in which Huddle appeared to elbow Chepkirui. Funny enough, in my picture it looks like Chepkirui is making contact with Huddle.

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Many minutes later, Mr. P finally came into view. I was tracking his progress via an app and knew he was hovering right below his goal pace. He finished in 1:29:09, a teensy yet torturous bit under his goal.

I yelled and he waved. He hates this picture, but since the official race photos cost $29.95 for one, this one might have to do.

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Little Boy’s race was a bit unfair, as he was in the 7-10 year old boy’s division. I was shocked at how many kids had real track uniforms and running shoes. These kids were serious. I reminded Little Boy to go out slow and finish strong, and was very pleased that he did just that. He started in the back of the pack and worked his way up to finish firmly in the middle.

Running Strong near the finish

Running Strong near the finish

I was so proud of him. He paced himself perfectly and told me he didn’t walk at all. they gave all the kids heat wraps though it wasn’t that cold and they all walked around proudly with them.

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Another memorable part of our weekend was the view from our hotel room. Here are the runners making  their way through Times Square as the Green M&M lords over them.

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The Crying Octopus

I truly believe that a child’s drawing is a reflection of their inner world, a creative expression of emotions and thoughts that may be difficult to articulate in other ways. So I was a little baffled when Little Boy brought home this:

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Of course I am touched that he was thinking of me while drawing during his after school program, and as usual his artistic talent is pleasing, but let’s analyze what’s going on here. It’s an octopus, with long hair, crying and squirting green ink, with tiny fish in its mouth.

“Is that supposed to be me?” I asked Little Boy, after expressing proper appreciation.

He seemed confused. “Of course it is,” he said.

So when Little Boy imagines me as an animal, he thinks of a large multi-armed sea creature, covered with suction cups and with the power to cling furiously and suffocatingly to objects. Furthermore, I am simultaneously crying, eating, and spurting ink, which Little Boy knows is something that octopuses do to escape predators. (I like that he choose green, knowing it’s my favorite color.)

Okay, I’ll try not to read too much into this.

Also interesting is that he wrote “For Mom,” even though he still calls me “Mommy.” He’s realizing his peers no longer say “mommy and daddy.” The day he starts calling me “Mom” is the day I’ll embody a crying octopus.

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