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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Bitter Pill to Swallow: Mountains 2 Main Half Marathon

Even though it is officially tri season, I am still stuck in running season. It seems like the past few years my tri season start keeps getting later and later.   I am swimming twice a week and cycling once a week, but my running shoes still seem to get most of my attention.  Maybe I am turning into a one sport kind of girl, but triathlon has not fallen completely off my radar; I do plan on racing some tris as soon as summer gets here.

Running season for me usually ends in early spring because tri season starts then; in fact, I don't ever remember running a half marathon this late in the year that wasn't part of a half iron distance race.  I knew I was no where near ready to do the half iron distance triathlon for this race, but the half marathon sounded perfect, especially since it would be on familiar stomping grounds.  Another bonus was that this race takes place mainly on the Swamp Rabbit Trail which means with the exception of a couple hills, it would be a flat race. However, my main concern was the temperature.  Maybe it is because I am getting older, or maybe it's because of other mitigating factors, but ever since my nephrectomy, heat really seems to affects me.

As race day grew nearer, the temperatures kept right on climbing.  The start was predicted to be almost 70 degrees with temps in the mid to upper 80s by noon.  I met up with Scottie before the start and as we stood near the start line chatting, I felt like I was already sweating.  The clouds were at least covering the sun (for now), and there was a slight breeze, but the humidity was off the charts.  The gun fired and I started out conservatively since I knew a huge hill was waiting on me before the first mile was over.  By mile three, I knew I would have a bad day, but I thought I could race conservative and just clock in a slower half time.  I pulled back and allowed myself to find a 9 minute mile pace; I figured I would end the race with a pace close to 9:30, which was no where near where I wanted, but I figured it was better than nothing.

The course entered Furman campus around mile 4.5 and included the final hill before winding around the lake and dropping runners back on the SRT.  The hill is a steep but short grunt that really elevates your heart rate.  I have run this hill A LOT in training, so I was quite prepared for what to expect.  I knew that while my heart rate would spike on the ascent, the nice downhill on the other side would allow me to recover and by the time I hit the flat I would feel like the hill never happened.  I had done this hill multiple times in the weeks leading up to this race, so when my heart started to thump out of my chest, I thought nothing of it.  But on the descent I noticed my heart was beating even harder than it was when I was climbing.  It was a very odd sensation, so I did notice it, but kept on running and assumed it would calm down.  But it didn't.  My heart kept right on thumping out of my chest like I was climbing a mountain.  I was well onto the flat section at this point and slowed my pace to see if that helped.  It didn't.  I started to get a little panicky; I have never had any sort of heart issue, so this was a first.  By the time I got back to the SRT, Scottie had caught up to me, and I told her that something was wrong with my heart.  She suggested I walk and stop at the aid station.  I did, and my heart rate seemed to drop somewhat, but as soon as I started running, I felt like I was running straight up hill again.  At this point I hit mile six.  I knew something was horribly wrong, so I started walking.  I figured I would keep walking until I felt better and then pick back up running.  My time would be a little slower, but I figured I would feel better once I walked a bit and my heart rate came down.

The only problem was that never happened.  Every time I would try to run, my heart would explode and scare the hell out of me.  I ended up walking the remaining way, over seven miles!  It was humiliating, depressing, sad, and scary.  I watched helplessly as person after person passed me.  I tried desperately to rationalize with myself what was happening to my body and kept coming back to severe dehydration, but since I'm not a doctor or nurse, I couldn't be sure.  I asked myself questions to see if I was coherent.  I tried to speak casually to police officers working the roads to make sure I could communicate.  I shoved ice down my sports bra, under my hat, down my shorts.  I sang along to my music to force myself to focus.  It was a long, dark, and lonely seven miles.

Finally, I made it to the finish line.  Two hours and forty minutes!!!!  My pace was over 12 minutes per mile which I guess is not bad considering how horrible I felt and how long I walked.  I remember grabbing my medal and sitting down on the ground as soon as I stopped.  Then I remember lying down.  Finally medical noticed me and got me in to the medical tent.  I quick check of my vitals showed an elevated heart rate and low blood pressure.  They forced me to down some electrolytes and kept checking my vitals.  After I explained my situation, they agreed with my conclusion that dehydration was probably the culprit.  I was ordered to drink plenty of electrolytes and take it easy.  To illustrate just how dehydrated I was, I didn't urinate until almost three in the afternoon; I normally go every couple hours, but had not gone since 7am and had been drinking fluid steadily since noon.

So what did I learn from all this?  Unfortunately, I came to the realization that heat is no longer my friend.  I have fooled myself into thinking that there were other factors at play, but the common denominator in all my bad runs has been the heat.  I can keep on punishing myself by trying to force myself to finish long races in high temps, or I can be smart and only race when the distance is short and the temps are low.  While I do love competing, I love my body more, and no race is worth doing permanent damage to myself.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, but one that I have had a long time to process and think about, and I know this is the best decision for me.  As I get older, I realize that racing is evolving into more of a "fun" hobby than a competitive desire.  Racing definitely gives me something to work towards and gives me a carrot to chase, so I will never give it up completely, but the need to race in order to compare myself to others or the desire to race and push myself to the very limits of my ability is waning.  I can't quite put my finger on it (maybe it's maturity, maybe it's complacency, maybe it's old age). but something inside of me doesn't feel the need to prove myself anymore.

I will always want to race, and I will always want to do well, but I think my definition of "do well" is evolving somewhat.

I am not sure what race I will be tackling next, but you can count on there being another race in my future.

Happy training!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reedy River 5K Race Report

This race was a pretty sudden spur of the moment decision.  I had been wanting to race a 5K this season, but couldn't seem to find one that fit my schedule.  My friend, Lisa, had already signed up for this race, so I let peer pressure push me into signing myself up.  The timing of the race fit well with my schedule; I had just finished racing Altamont and had taken a week off of running to allow my calves some much needed rest.  This race would serve as a good test to see if my fast twitch muscles worked anymore, and it would kick off my next block of run training that is preparing me for a half marathon.  However, the week leading up to the race was horrible as I made the difficult decision to say goodbye to Gus, my dog.  Gus came to me as a foster and was really sick with heartworm, horrible skin issues, and was about 25 pounds underweight.  His poor tail looked like an opossum's from lack of hair and he had never been inside a house before.  He had lost most of his teeth and was completely pitiful.   I was undergoing chemo at the time and Gus felt so awful from his heartworm treatment that we spent most of our time sleeping.  We would try walking down the street and we would both be so exhausted that we would crash for most of the afternoon.  This created a bond between us that was incredibly strong since we literally relied on one another to make it through the day.  When Flutie passed away, Gus was there to give me comfort and now that Gus is gone, I have been coming home to a dogless house.  This has been quite difficult for me to get used to, and I am still not used to it.  I have really been struggling to accept not having a dog anymore, but I hate it, and it is way harder than I thought it would be.  I still have three wonderful cats to snuggle with, but it is not the same as having a dog.  We will be getting another dog this summer, this transition has been rough to say the least.

Basically, going into this race I felt awful.  No motivation, I hadn't trained all week due to grieving over Gus, and I wasn't sleeping well.  Plus, it was going to be hot, but I figured a race would take my mind off of things, so I was eager to give it a shot.  I thought I should be capable of doing 25 minutes, but I really wanted to get under that 25 minute mark.

Mile One: It was hard to find a pace because so many people were racing and a lot of these people were not properly seeded.  I had a lot of people just abruptly stop in front of me, small children that I had to maneuver around, and a lot of walkers who thought they should start on the front line.  It was a lot like Frogger for the first half mile.  Finally, the crowd thinned out and I started to get control of my breathing.  Everything hurt so I knew I was either running too hard or was simply not ready for this race.  I checked my watch and my pace told me that I was running too hard.  I dialed it back a little and cruised into the first mile at 8:03 pace, a little faster than I wanted, but I thought I would be fine.

Mile Two:  I really started finding my groove here as the course wound its way through Cleveland Park.  I settled in to a 8:15 for mile 2 which is exactly what I wanted.  I was on track to hit my goal time and although I was definitely hot and thirsty, I figured I could beat the heat before I started to crumble.

Mile Three:  It's hard to run anywhere in downtown Greenville and not have a hill.  The hills we had encountered for the first two miles of the race were few, and they were short, easy hills, but now race organizers through in a long, winding hill that absolutely destroyed me.  I felt myself slowing down.  I saw people pass me that I had passed earlier.  I felt sweat running down my face.  The hill just kept going and my time just kept slipping away.  My pace for mile three dropped to 9:12!  At this point I knew that my dream of breaking 25 was gone and that I would be lucky if I could break 26.  I tried really hard to dig deep to get that last little .10 to the finish line, but my heart wasn't in it and my body had checked out about halfway in to mile 3.  I hit the finish line in 26:02, which really irked me.  The least I could have done was get in under 26 minutes.  But you win some, you lose some, and today was clearly not my day.

I ended up losing out on third Masters, but this gave me first in my age group and 36 out of 730 females.  Unfortunately, the only awards for this race were overall and Masters/Grandmasters, so no trophy for me.  It was good however, to test myself on a 5K course and now I want to revisit a 5K course later in the season to gauge my fitness.  I am enjoying this more laid back race schedule this season.  Training for an Ironman requires so much training that it really becomes hard to do anything but your workouts.  Not having to worry about one has allowed me a lot more freedom in choosing races, stepping outside the box, and flexibility in my training schedule.  I also have a lot less guilt about things; I don't feel guilty if I miss a workout, and I don't feel guilty about missing time with my loved ones and family.  So far, it's a win-win, but I have a feeling I will tackle another Ironman before I hang my racing shoes up for good.

Up next is the M2M Half Marathon!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Altamont Challenge Half Marathon: What was I thinking?

For the past two years I have been eyeing the Altamont Half Marathon put on by Upstate Ultras.  I am very familiar with Altamont; this mountain was the site for several years of the US Cycling Pro Road Race Championships and is also home to the infamous Paris Mtn Road Race.  With 1,125ft in elevation gain, runners in the Altamont Challenge Half Marathon summit Altamont (the highest point in Greenville) before heading down the backside of the mountain; then in a real test of endurance, runners turn around and reverse the course, going back over the mountain and down the other side.  While the final three miles are a straight descent back to the finish line, you may find that your quads aren't all that cooperative after being eaten up climbing up the backside of the mountain.

I love Altamont in that sick way that climbers love hills.  I love to ride it on my bike, and I love the challenge of running it as well.  But that was years ago, way before I got sick.  This year marked the first year since 2012 that I was able to actually run Altamont.  Since Upstate Ultras announced this race in 2015, I have dreamed of doing it, but simply wasn't strong enough to take it on.  But finally, I felt enough like my old running self to attempt to tackle this beast.  Lauren and I ran the entire course during training and I had a fabulous run.  Of course that training run consisted of stopping at the summit to rest and regroup, stopping at the turn around to rest and regroup, stopping at the summit again to rest before finally descending down the mountain.  It was also about ten degrees cooler than race day.  So foolish me went into this race with a wishful time in my mind that I thought I was capable of.  I also had a time in my head that I thought was a bit more realistic and reasonable, but I started out the race running a pace that would get me my wishful time.  Big mistake.

Climbing the mountain right out of the gate was hard.  I tried to settle in, but it is hard to do this when you are climbing for the first three miles.  By the time I reached the summit, I was pretty excited and tore off down the back side of the mountain like the devil was chasing me.  This is where most people make a mistake; the downhills really trash your quads and then you have to turn around and run back up all those hills  you just came down.  I was one of those people.   When I reached the CVS, my Garmin showed close to seven miles, so I knew the course would be a bit long.  I tried to knock out one mile at a time, but man was it hard!  When I hit the "wall," a straight up hill about a quarter of a mile long, I realized that I could actually walk faster than what I was running.  So I walked.  As soon as I started walking I could feel my calves and quads.  They hurt!  At the top of the wall, I started running again, but I could tell that today was not going to be my day.  While my time was still on track, I knew I still had two more miles of climbing before I could get a break.  Trying to reach the summit was tough.  I was hoping I would reach the top before my watch hit two hours, and I barely made it.  Relief!  Now it was downhill all the way back to the finish!  Hallelujah!  I could make up lost time and not hurt so much!

I was so wrong.

Trying to run down the mountain was almost as bad as running up it.  My quads announced they were finished; my calves agreed. I felt my left foot start dragging the ground at times and I got nervous that    I might actually fall face first.  Instinctively, I found myself fighting gravity by leaning back into the hills and trying to slow down, a huge no no in downhill running as this takes more energy and strength than letting gravity do the work for you. I really wanted to cry.  I couldn't wait to get off the mountain!  But my misery was far from over since I still had to run down a frontage road in the sun and then run an entire lap around the park before crossing the finish line.  When my Garmin hit Mile 13, I was still on the frontage road.  What?????!!!!  How far was this half marathon anyway?  Shouldn't it be 13.1?  Crossing into the park, I had nothing left.  Any sort of time goal I had was gone; my only thought was making it to the finish.  I crossed the finish line in 2:26, and immediately looked at my watch.  13:57 miles!  No wonder I thought I would never make it!  I really thought for a moment that I might vomit, and my legs started to lock up.  I wobbled over to a nearby bench and sat
there stunned for several minutes.  My head was foggy, my stomach was heaving, and my legs were cramping.  I cannot recall hurting this bad in a long time.  But I had finished.  I had conquered Altamont....sort of.

As if I had anything left to give at this point, I had to walk a half mile walk uphill back to my car! It is a wonder I was not hit by a car because I know I was weaving all over the road.  I actually debated stopping and lying down in the grass.  But I kept walking and by the time I got to my car, I actually felt somewhat better.  My legs weren't feeling completely like jello, but I still felt like I might pass out.  When I finally looked in my car mirror, I noticed my entire face was covered in salt.  I looked like I had rolled in a salt pile.  No wonder I felt so bad!  I guess the heat (50 degrees is not good running temps for me) and lack of proper hydration (I had about four sips of water the entire race and no gels) took its toll.  That explains why I tanked so hard coming down the mountain.

I ended up placing 19th out of 41 runners and sixth female overall.  From what I can gather (there are not age group breakdowns provided at this time), I also placed first in my age group, so that was an unexpected bonus even though there were not age group awards given.  I did get a really cool shirt and patch, and most importantly a victory over Altamont.   While I immediately said never again, I am thinking now that maybe I would like another crack at this mountain.   Maybe.

Up next, I turn to some flatter run courses before cranking up the tri training and racing some local triathlons.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Greer Earth Day 10K Race Report

My goal for 2017 isn't about setting PRs or placing in my age group.  Instead I thought that it would be fun to race at least once a month for the entire year.  I love to compete because it is the only thing that really makes me push myself and work hard, but I didn't want to limit myself just to triathlons.  In fact, I wanted to back away from triathlons a little bit and focus more on running, something that I have really been starting to enjoy. I wanted to step out of the box a bit and try some distances and races that I don't normally do. Since I don't have a huge "A race" this year, I have a lot more freedom and flexibility on picking what races I want to do and can really let each race be its own separate "A race."  I also don't have to really worry about comparing previous results since a lot of the races I am doing are "firsts" for me or are races I have not done in a really long time.

I kicked off  the month of April with the Greer Earth Day 10K.  I did this race many years ago when it was a half marathon, and all I could remember was that it wasn't flat.  I did do the 10K version of this race when it was in TR, but that was on the Swamp Rabbit Trail and was pretty much flat.  This was in a new location on a new course, so I considered it to be "first".  I had not been doing any sort of short distance training, so knew that the race would be interesting.  I was fortunate enough to have Lisa and Forrest racing the 5K and 10 miler respectively, so we all got to hang out together before each of our races started.  Regina filled in as our official race sherpa and photographer.

The weather was cool, but warmed up pretty quickly once I got running.  I started out with the lead group at a blistering pace, much too fast for me, so started pulling myself back about a quarter of a mile in.  I watched them disappear out of sight and tried to settle down.  However, at three quarters of a mile in, in a moment of incredible irony, a train crossing sign forced everyone in the race to stop so I was able to catch up to the lead runners!  In the distance as I neared the train, I could see the lead runners pacing back and forth in front of the crossing guard watching as the train went hurtling by.  By the time I reached the crossing guard and stopped my watch, the train was almost finished.  I was at a complete stand still for about ten seconds before thankfully, the train was gone and the crossing guard sign lifted up.   And we were off....again!  This time I was careful to not get sucked into the thrill of trying to run with the big dogs, so I settled in to what was a pretty uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable pace.  Once mile one was done, the hills started to arrive.  There weren't any crazy hills, but there were consistent hills on this course.  Once you summitted one hill you barely caught your breath before you were hit with another.  Mile 3-4 was pretty much one long gradual climb that really made me feel like I should have done the 5K.  By the time I started mile 4-5, I was feeling all the hills and hating life, but by mile 5 I was actually starting to feel better.  I woman passed me around the 5.5 mile mark.  She looked to be in my age group, so I thought I would shadow her and then try and pass her near the finish.  She must have known what my plan was because she kept accelerating and by the time we hit mile 6, my pace was the fastest it had been the entire race.  I never did catch her (she took the 2nd Masters award), but I was grateful that she forced me to really work hard at the end.  My finish time (including the train) was 53:02, but without the train, I would have finished in 52:51.  Not a PR by any means, but the best 10K time I have had since my diagnosis. Considering the hills on this course, I was pretty pleased with my result.

My time, without factoring in the train.  Official race
time is 53:02.
I was able to secure a third place Masters placing in this race which is a first for me.  It felt good to push super hard on a short course especially since normally everything I do is long distance.  Next week's race is Altamont Half Marathon and it will be SUPER SLOW for sure.  Running over a mountain and back is not a half that I expect to have a PR on, but this is a challenging course that I have had my eye on for a while.

Until next time, happy training!

We all brought home hardware!

10K Elevation chart.  Lots of ups and downs!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Third Time's a Charm: Asheville Half Race Report

In many ways, the Asheville Half Marathon at Biltmore is my Achilles heel.  The course, which should be suited to my strengths, has chewed me up and spit me out on two previous occasions.  It has just enough hills and uneven terrain to wreak havoc on getting that half PR, but a PR was not what I was looking for last weekend.  I was merely seeking redemption.

The first time I raced this half, I had finished chemo three months prior, so just trying to finish was my solitary goal.  The following year I fared much better with a 2:15, but still far from my "wish" goal of 2 hours.  So when I signed up for this year's race, I swore that this would be my last attempt at conquering this beast; 2 hours or bust.  After some reality checking I decided that 2;05 might be more realistic, but hey, a girl can dream, right?

I have really been focusing on my running.  With the exception of my Hilton Head fiasco, my runs were as close to my pre cancer times as they were ever going to be, so I should have gone into this race with lots of optimism, but my first DNF had really rattled me.  I was having some serious mental doubts about what type of pace I could throw down, and knowing that there would be gravel the last three miles had left me gun shy.  Plus, Lauren was unable to race, so I was going to be tackling this race completely solo.

However, the weather gods seemed to take pity on me and the earlier predicted forecast of 50 degree temps for the race start suddently turned into 25 degree temps.  I opted to sleep in my own bed instead of a hotel, so I had to drive up the morning of, but the drive was peaceful and I had the roads to myself.    I really struggled with what to wear; I hate wearing running tights, but the wind chill kept me from wearing shorts.  Of course, as soon as the race started and I hit the first set of hills, I began regretting my decision, but by the time I reached the back section of the course, the headwind was so strong that I was glad I wore tights.  My plan for the first half of the race was to simply run comfortable and not kill myself on the hills.  If people passed me, so be it.  I needed to save myself for the back half of the course where I knew there would be gravel and wind.

Look at all those HILLS!
Miles 1-6 made me extremely glad for all the hill workouts I have done the past few months.  There were short steep hills, long gradual hills, and all kinds of hills in between.  I felt sorry for anyone racing who was from the beach because these hills were relentless.  However, seeing the Biltmore House at mile six made me forget all about the hills.  No matter how many times I have been to this place, the house simply takes my breath away.  It is STUNNING.  While almost everyone around me was stopping to take selfies, I knew the next few miles would have some nice downhills, and I found myself grinning ear to ear when I saw that my average pace was 9:03.  Pushing that type of pace on these hills was a major victory in itself for me.  I was excited, but I knew that for me, the worst was yet to come.

Miles 7-9 were amazing and definitely my favorite part of the course.  The gardens, the stone bridge, the winding downhill, I love all of it.  I saw my pace start dropping as I cruised  through the downhills.  I felt amazing; my legs were strong, my lungs weren't burning, and my stomach was cooperating.  I felt like I could run this pace all day which is exactly how I wanted to feel.  At this point I had scaled my pace back to nine min miles, and crossed my fingers that I could hold on to this pace.

Miles 10-12.  This is where the gravel begins on the course.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the roads were mainly smooth.  Either someone had scraped or heavy rains had washed away much of the gravel because I did not have a lot of trouble navigating.  Because I had to keep my eyes trained on what was in front of me, I couldn't enjoy any of the views of the river, but this was just as well because it was here that the headwinds were the worst.  I noticed that my pace started to slip either because of the wind, because of the gravel, or both.  I was on track for a 2 hour half at this point which really had me jacked, but I also knew that the last three miles of this race is where I always blew up.  I opted to run this race with my headphones, so I tried to focus on the music and pretend that I was just out for a three mile training run.  I still felt really good, but the gravel and wind were starting to slow my pace down a bit. Okay, a lot.   I realized that I could easily meet my 2:05 goal, but seeing how close I was to sub 2 really made me want to dig deep and see if I could do it.

Mile 12-13 was a mental battle.  This is an out and back section on the worst of the gravel.  Since it is an out and back on a fairly narrow path,  it is pretty crowded which makes finding good footing difficult.  The final quarter mile is uphill and since the course is a little long, I really had to push to get in under two hours.  I crossed the finish line in 1:59:22 (chip time) and was elated.  Not only had I met my original goal of 2:05, but I had also met my wish goal of sub 2.  I have not run a sub two hour half  since my diagnosis more than three years ago.  I did not expect to set a post cancer PR, especially on this type of course, but everything fell perfectly into place on race day.  All my hard work had finally paid off.

I absolutely love this race, but think that this might be the last time I run this course for a while. There are other races to run; other places to see, and other mountains to conquer.

Coolest finisher medal!

The stainless steel pint beer cup was nice swag.

Whew, that was close!

Top twenty in my age group at this race?  Heck, yeah!

Until next time,

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The DNF Club: Hilton Head Marathon Race Report

I rang in 2017 by doing a 50K on New Year's Eve, and then if that wasn't crazy enough, I registered for Hilton Head Island marathon the next day!

Coming down off an ultra and then realizing you have a marathon in a little over a month really throws a wrench into your training plans.  Ideally, I would have liked to have taken a week (or month!) off from running to allow my legs some rest after the ultra, but I had a marathon on the horizon, so I only took three days off.  By the weekend, I was back to high mileage training.   I could feel some definite fatigue on hills, so I took it easy and just tried to get in some distance training on tired legs. I only had the month of January to prepare for this race, so I did a couple 16 milers and just tried to keep my fitness up.

Chris and I both caught some sort of crud two weeks before the marathon (which Chris still can't seem to shake), so I ended up doing a two week taper which is more than I had intended.  My last long run leading up the race went extremely well, so I was cautiously optimistic that everything might go according to plan....NOT!  You can never predict what Mother Nature is going to do and she really decided to mess with me.  I run much better in cold temps (heat is my kryptonite), and I had fully expected HH to be in the mid 30s- low 50s for race day.  I was not expecting to see temps in the 50s for the start and mid 70s for finish!  Yikes!

My suffer buddy for this race was Lauren, who is a running fanatic, but also someone who possesses an impressive running results pedigree.  We drove down Friday afternoon, picked up our  packets, and grabbed a bite of dinner.  As soon as I ate my dinner, my stomach started giving me issues.  I figured it was stress induced and would work itself out by the next morning, but when I woke up, it still hurt. I ran a couple quick back and forth in the hotel room to see if I could even start the race, and it seemed okay.  I figured once the race began I would forget all about it.

Lauren and I had no intention of running this race together, but we ended up together for the first nine miles.  We were hitting comfortable pace times that I was happy with even though there was a fairly strong headwind and a very steep bridge that we had to go over and back.  I was hot and sweaty these first few miles but not miserable.  But by mile nine something was wrong.  I started feeling really bad, really quickly.  Stomach pain, headache, nausea, and my pace just disintegrated.  It was like letting the air out of a tire.   Lauren disappeared, and I was suddenly wondering how I was going to run 17 more miles.  I kept trying to get to mile 13, so I could assess, but it was taking forever.  I began to wonder if I could just sit down somewhere.  I was determined to reach the halfway point so I put my headphones in as a distraction, but eventually took them out because the sound of the music made my head hurt even worse.  Several people passed me, each one covered in shiny sheen of sweat, and that's when I noticed that I wasn't all!  I sweat like a pig, and I should have been absolutely drenched from the heat. But I wasn't; in fact, I was almost chilled.  This really scared me since I only have one kidney.  I told myself I could walk the remaining 13 miles, but I wasn't sure what good I would be doing my body, or if I could even make the cutoff by walking.  I knew Chris was still sick at home, and I wondered if I didn't pick up what he had.  The thought of torturing my solitary kidney for two-three more hours made me think that perhaps I should listen to my body for once, so when I finally made it to mile 13.1, the halfway mark,  I told the timer I needed to stop.

I was at 2:06 on the clock by this point, so figured I would just catch a ride with the race people who were patrolling the course.  Wrong!  The timer  told me there was no one who could come get me! I would have to walk all the way back to the finish, which was a very long way.  Luckily, a man was waiting on his wife to come through.  He offered to carry me back to the finish line.  This man was a life saver!  It was his wife's first marathon, and they were from Seattle.  He was sympathetic and stood by quietly while I cried for a bit, and then loaded me up in his car and drove me back to Jarvis Creek Park.  Once I made it back to the finish line, I had to report my DNF to race officials.  They were kind enough to give me credit for the half marathon, but included my 24 minute car ride in my time.   Since my time was transferred over to the half, you could argue that there isn't no DNF next to my name, but since I did not finish the race I registered for and intended to do it's a DNF in my eyes.

I have never DNF'd a race before.  While it was a difficult decision, I have come to peace with it. For some reason, we place a great amount of shame on people who DNF.  We do not consider what they may be going through or how this decision made them feel; we just lump them into the "quitter" category and then make ourselves feel superior by saying things like "I would NEVER DNF a race."

Yes, there is something to be said for toughing  it out and finishing what you started no matter how bad it gets (I have mad respect for pros who do this, especially) but anyone who has DNF'd has come to this decision after a lot of grappling, soul searching, and self loathing.  I felt like Cersei in Game of Thrones walking into the park to the finish line table with my chip.   I assumed everyone would line up behind me and start yelling "Shame! Shame!" I found an isolated place in the woods to cry and come to grips with my decision.  Like I said, it was not easy, but the one thing I have learned since my diagnosis is to listen more to my body. It's the only one I've got, and no extra 13 miles was worth doing some irreparable damage.  There will be other races in my future. There will probably be another DNF.  But undoubtedly there will be many more finishes.  This is not the end.

In thirteen years of racing, this was my first DNF, so my entrance into the DNF Club is long overdue.  I usually race ten races or more a year, so the odds were starting to get stacked against me.  I knew it was coming sometime, which doesn't make it any easier, but I am a firm believer in learning from all things, and this was definitely a learning experience.  I learned you cannot DNF if you never make it to the starting line. Many people never make it to the start line despite having signed up, and some people are so afraid of failure that they never even pull the registration trigger at all.   I am not afraid to toe the line.  I am not afraid of failure.  I understand that on any given day something might happen that will prevent me from finishing, and I am willing to take that risk.  That is part of racing.  Failure happens to all of us. It's the getting back up, straightening your ponytail, and trying again that really matters.  I was brave enough to start, smart enough to call it a day, and foolish enough to want to try again.  And again.  And again.  I may have DNF'd, but that doesn't make me a quitter.

See you at the next start line.

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Ultra Ending to 2016: Resolution Run 50K

So glad this girl enjoys suffering as much as me!
 Many triathletes like to focus on their weakest discipline in the off season.  After IM Chatty, I knew I needed to devote some serious time to strengthening my run. But I also realized that just working on it in the off season wouldn't be enough....I needed more like a year!   So all tri season I tried to give just a little more extra time to my running and then when tri season ended in August this year, I really cranked up my efforts and ran an early fall marathon in October to test myself.

It would be easy after doing that October marathon to just train in the winter and not do any more running races, but I wanted to really force myself out of my comfort zone; after all, that is how we grow, right?  I needed to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and I knew that in order to keep myself motivated and accountable (and therefore, uncomfortable), I had to do some more running races. Racing rewards me for all the hard work I have been doing and it serves as a perfect assessment; I get instant results and feedback and it keeps me from getting too comfortable.   I learn lessons from racing that I would never learn in training.  I crave this accountability.

Another thing I wanted to do this year was complete a 50K.  While I have done the Glenn Thrift Challenge, a 36 mile trail run, a couple times before, it was always an untimed, unofficial event that I did with friends for fun.  It wasn't something that I actually raced.  I wanted to do a 50K that was ALL running just to see what I could do. And I wanted to do it on the road, since that is where I feel most comfortable running, but finding road ultras are almost impossible.   I knew that I could just easily run 31 miles on my own, but I also knew how tempting and easy it would be to pause my watch to take a potty break, stop to refuel, take off a layer of clothes, or stop meet up with friends.  I needed an ultra that had a clock that I would race against that would hold me accountable.  When I found the Resolution Run in TR put on by Upstate Ultras, I knew I had found my race.  The race was free (participants were asked to donate to a designated cause and bring snacks for the group aid station); it was an honor system race without official timing mats or chips, and it helped support our local running community.  I was sold.

This race featured three different time frames, a 3hr, 6hr, and 12hr, and runners would complete as many miles as they could in their respective time limit. I wanted to run 31 miles, the standard distance for an ultra, so Lauren (who had agreed to suffer alongside me) and I decided that we would
sign up for the six hour group and race against that time limit.  Our hope was that we would finish in the six hour window, but if we didn't, that was okay, too.

The race was held at Trailblazer Park and the 12hr group began at 7am.  Since it was NYE and the Clemson game was on that evening, Lauren and I decided to start at 7am with the 12 hr group.   Since there was no official timing chips or bib numbers participants were asked to have their own cup that they could put rocks in to self monitor the number of laps they had run.  Each lap was a 2 mile loop and would be run on a fairly technical trail and part of the old TR track.  The benefit of such a short loop was that I didn't have to carry any fluids and I could set up my own personal aid station. It was 28 degrees race morning, so Lauren and I each had a bag full of hand warmers, short sleeve and long sleeve tops, and several sets of gloves, plus our fluids, gels, and sport beans.   Since it was still dark at 7am, we had to wear headlamps and ear warmers for the first two laps.

Since my goal was to run a 50K against a clock and the race was not an "officially timed" race with numerous local runners popping in and out over the duration of the day, Lauren and I had already decided ahead of time that we would not restrict ourselves to the designated course.  I explained my situation to the race director who said it was fine if I ran my own route provided I didn't confuse any other racers.  Since I had six hours to run 31 miles, we decided to jump off the course after the second loop and run 2-4 mile loops on the road.  Since I have a marathon in February, I didn't want to risk getting hurt running trails with no prior training, and I wanted to run a similar pace that I would in the marathon.  Lauren and I decided we would continue to loop back to our aid station on a regular basis so we could refuel, take off layers, and place rocks in our cups.

Things were going amazingly well (thanks, Amanda Whitley for the 13 miles of company!) until mile 22. Miles 22-26 seem to freeze in time.  Lauren even started asking me if my Garmin had lost its signal because each mile seemed to take so long.  But we finally made it to mile 26, and I was pleased to see that I was ten minutes faster than I was at the Spinx Marathon in October.  I had argued with Lauren when we decided to tackle a 50K that 31 miles wouldn't be any harder than a marathon because it was only five more miles.  What was five more miles?  Apparently it is a lot!  I now know why you stop after a 26.2!  Those last five miles were a test of true endurance.  Until mile 26, my feet were the main thing hurting me, but by mile 27 my legs were starting to hurt all over along with my shoulders, and my back, and my wrist was throbbing from my Garmin.  My pace had slowed significantly those last five miles as well.  Lauren and I had walked once (about 20 ft when we hit mile 26 to celebrate another marathon) and the only time I had stopped moving at all was to use the restroom, drink  fluid and fuel, or strip off layers of clothes (despite the cold temps and wind, I ended up in a tank and shorts for the last 10 miles).

Starting our last four miles.  I was pretty
unhappy here.

Lauren was her usual chipper self.  

Our final mile was run on the TR track and knowing this was the final push, I felt my adrenaline start to surge.  When I finally hit 31 miles in front of the amphitheater and saw my time, 5:28, I was thrilled. I finished well within my six hour time frame and pushed myself to achieve something that I would not have thought possible just a few years ago.   Three years ago I celebrated New Year's Eve in the hospital following a nephrectomy.  Two years ago, I had just finished my final round of chemo and spent New Year's Eve in bed feeling sick.  One year ago, I was at home questioning whether I could successfully run long distance again after having suffered a painful 7 hr marathon at IM Chatty. But this year on New Year's Eve I ran a solid 31 miles and  proved to myself that "she believed she could, so she did."
Crossing the finish line.

Racing against this clock really forced me to be accountable.
Lauren finishing her 31.

Adding the final rock to her cup!
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I still have a lot to prove to myself in regards to running.   And I still have a score I need to settle with an iron distance race sometime in the future.  But that future is still far away. Right now I am enjoying spending time with shorter distances again, supporting my local tri community, and having time left in my day to spend time with my friends, pets, family, and my love.  I am finding myself again, this athlete I thought I lost to cancer three years ago, and I am excited to see what she can do in 2017!

Trying to sit down was very painful.

Things were starting to really throb and hurt once I sat down.  

Another goal was to run over 1,000 miles this year.
This does not reflect all the miles I did on the
treadmill though, only outside miles.  

Happy 2017!