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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!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Run for Thought 5K Race Report

The Run for Thought 5K is a race that really hits home for me.  Last November,  my father was involved in a bicycle crash that left him with TBI (traumatic brain injury).  Even though the accident was a year ago, and he received extensive therapy and treatment while a patient at Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital,  he still suffers from many effects from his brain injury.   This accident has forever changed the lives of my father and stepmother, and when the opportunity came for them to help bring awareness of brain injuries to their community and help raise funds for the Brain Injury Association of SC by participating in a 5K, they jumped at the chance to help give back. When they told me about the Run for Thought 5K, I was super excited to be able to run a race AND have the proceeds go to such a worthy cause, so I signed up and met my parents at Lake Conestee Park.  They had planned to walk the race, so I decided to race it just to see how my legs felt two weeks after my marathon.
So proud of this man!

The weather in South Carolina has been crazy warm, so I assumed that this Saturday would be no different.  When I checked the morning temps and saw 40 degree plus temps, I felt assured that a tank top and shorts would be fine, but I failed to realize that my thermometer did not factor in wind.  And the wind was blowing hard.   And it was a cold wind at that! Sixteen mph plus winds made the temps feel more like the 30s, so standing at the start line in my shorts and tank top turned me into a popsicle.

Another factor that I did not really think about very carefully was that this was a 5K TRAIL race.  While I love spending time in the woods, I am not big on racing through them.   Trail racing requires you to constantly look down, it is hard to find a solid pace, and it requires you to have nimble and solid footing.  I like to stop and look around at things when I am in the woods, I hate speeding up and slowing down or not being able to get around someone in front of me, and my neuropathy makes it hard for me to not stumble or trip over rocks and roots.  Hiking or leisurely running on trails is something I enjoy, but racing trails is NOT for me.   Give me a fun hike in the woods with my dog and boyfriend any day, but let me do my racing on the roads.

Luckily, the woods did provide a shield against the wind, so I warmed up quickly and ended up feeling great in my tank, shorts, and compression socks.  Of course, I started out way too hard and found myself huffing and puffing immediately.  There was a lot of people dodging on the trail which forces you to figure out how and where you are going to pass someone or how to get over if you hear someone passing you.  I was passed by several people, but I also passed quite a few.  There were a lot of uphills and downhills and turns which required me to really slow down lest I bust my butt on the leaves which proved to be fairly slick in places.  There were some wooden bridges and some board crossings, some stairs, and some paved sections (for which I was extremely grateful).   I had to be super careful with my footing and I felt like I was coming to a complete standstill at times when I had to step on roots and rocks to navigate the course.  I am not sure I even lifted my head the entire time for fear that I might fall.  I could not wait for this race to be over!  When I finally crossed the finish line, out of breath, unable to speak, and completely spent, I saw that my time was 28:03!  This is considerably slower than what my road 5Ks are, so it shows you how much this trail race slowed me down.   I congratulated several of the fast women who passed me and beat me and then waited on my parents to finish walking their 5K.

Male and Female 40-49 year old
 age group winners!

It was a great day to be able to give back to the group of people who have helped my dad and family so much and to meet many of the therapists who worked with my father during his recovery process.   I  would have never been able to imagine a year ago that my father would be able to participate in a 5K race, so being able to share this event with him was pretty special.

I am still very much in love with running right now, so I am allowing myself to completely be immersed in the sport.  I have several big running races coming up before tri season starts back up, so I am excited about what this year's running season will bring.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Experiment: Spinx Run Fest Marathon

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A year ago September, when I was lying in the middle of the road during the marathon portion of IM Chattanooga, I remember thinking to myself, 'My body can't handle running marathons anymore.'   But anyone who knows me also knows that I don't like not being able to do something I want to do.  And I certainly didn't like the idea that it was cancer preventing me from doing it.  So like any stubborn, hard headed, foolish girl would do, I signed up for the Spinx Run Fest Marathon.

This marathon won out over others mainly because the thought of being able to sleep in my own bed fascinated me.  I had never run a marathon that didn't involve traveling the day before, figuring out logistics with packet pick up and where to eat dinner, wondering about the course, and all the usual stress that comes with doing an out of town race.  With this race, I didn't have to worry about any of that.  I could train on as much of the course as I wanted, eat dinner at my own house,  sleep in my own bed, and drive 15 minutes after the race and be HOME!  I also loved the idea of doing a marathon early in the running season.  All my other stand alone marathons were in February or March, so being able to have a marathon under my belt BEFORE winter running season set in was a big win.  I liked the idea that I could race this marathon, take some time off and still pick back up with my friends for winter running races.   And Lauren Cason, one of those crazy people who just loves to run for the fun of it, agreed to do all my long training runs with me.   Seriously.  She likes to run 20 milers for no reason.

Representin' the Big Blue R, Team Rev3!

I decided this race would be an experiment....could I still do a marathon without crazy pain in my feet and back or was I really "out" when it came to long distance running.   I knew what I used to be capable of when running marathons, but I had enough sense to know that I probably wouldn't hit those times, even though it didn't keep me from wishing.  I opted to have a very loosely structured program since I had no idea what would happen when I started increasing the miles.  During the week, I ran anywhere from 3-8 miles on any given day, quite literally depending on how I felt that day.  Some weeks I would run five times a week; others I would run only two.  On the weekends, I would do one long run that tried to simulate race conditions.   I had some really good long runs, and I had some really bad long runs.  It would be a toss up as to which I had on race day.  

Twenty degrees cooler would have been nice!
Race morning arrived and someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that "it's fall, y'all!"  Seriously, it was almost 60 degrees!  Ideal marathon temps are low 40s!  This meant that it would be in the mid 70s by the time I finished!  I knew that my race would definitely not go as planned since heat and running for me is like mixing oil and water.   I had three goals in my head for this race:  a "realistic" goal, an "I think I am capable of this" goal, and an "in my dreams" goal.  Seeing the temps race morning pretty much knocked the "in my dreams" goal out the window.  As Lauren and I lined up on the start line, I decided to see how long I could keep her in my sights once the gun went off.  One mile into the race, Lauren vanished like a puff of smoke and I was all alone with my thoughts.

Mile 1-6 were fast and steady.  I was hitting my "in my dreams" goal splits, so I had to force myself to pull back some because I knew when the sun came out, I would be crying.

Mile 7-8 took runners through the Furman campus, and I was happy to see my parents and Forrest, Regina, and Scottie cheering, but my happiness soon dissipated when we ran EVERY FREAKING HILL in Furman except for one.  My legs were not feeling this whole "hill" thing, so I started to slow down and focus on the "what I think I am capable of" goal.

Miles 9-13 were back on the SRT and a gradual incline that would take us to TR.  I hit the halfway point of the race exactly where I wanted to be, but things started to fall apart shortly thereafter.

Miles 14-15 went through a neighborhood with a crazy hill and then right through someone's backyard!  Had I not known ahead of time about this new course change, I would have thought I was off course, but we literally ran through a homeowner's front and back yard and through a door in his privacy fence.

Miles 16-19 had runners go back down the SRT and back through Furman campus.  At this point, the sun was OUT and I was getting hot and tired.  My Garmin decided to drop its signal during this segment of the race and I was never able to get it to reload.  I was forced to go by the overall time on my watch instead.  I switch from "what I think I am capable of" goal to "realistic" goal.

Mile 19.  The pain on my face says how unhappy my quads were.

Miles 20-25 was a mental argument between my head which told me to keep going and my quads which were telling me to walk.  My quads won out and I started walking at the mile 21 marker.  I would walk a little bit, run a little bit, walk a lot, run a tiny bit.  I had a close encounter with a cat who really wanted me to take him home with me at mile 21 (I seriously considered how I could finish the race with a cat slung across the back of my neck).  I am no longer in "realistic" goal mode, but am instead in "God, please let this be over" mode.  After a quick convo with another friend (and quick dog pet) at mile 23, I was finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Mile 25 had another teacher friend and his wife and dog cheering me on (with a sign, even!) and I was at Fluor Field.

Mile 26 consisted of me rounding the bases of the baseball stadium (a nice was to end a marathon) to finish in 4:37 minutes.  I was exhausted, hurting, and hot, but I was pretty damn happy to be done.   Once I got home, had a hot shower and something to eat, I could objectively rehash the race and what went wrong and what I got right.
Lauren was fifth in her age group and thirteenth overall!  I was just happy
to get a Pepsi after the race!

Could be better, but could have also been a whole lot worse!

What I got wrong:
  • The heat!  Not anything I could do about this, but man, was it hot!  I never want to do a marathon in temps that high.  Give me cold temps any day!
  • The hills!  Sure I trained on some hills, but most of my stand alone marathons have been on flat courses.  This made a big difference since the times I was trying to hit for my splits were based on times I did on flat courses.  Hills tear up your legs, so by the time I finished with the hills at mile 19, my legs had had enough.  
What I got right: 
  • Crazy Compression socks for my feet and calves.  My neuropathy is the biggest thing holding me back from long distance racing, so I took a chance on this company (after trying several others) and I had no issues with my feet!  No crazy pain or numbness (out of the ordinary) and no blisters!  Definitely placing another order of these socks soon!
  • Choosing a race in my backyard enabled me to see friends and family and run on a course that was familiar to me.  Plus, living 15 minutes from the race site is a win-win.
  • No stomach issues!  I used to have an iron gut, but ever since my surgery, my stomach seems to hate any fluid or gels on the run.  It's been a real tight rope act to try and get enough fuel in my system without it crashing.  I was pretty stoked to scored the perfect balance on race day.  
  • Not picking up a stray cat to take home.
  • Being able to complete a marathon!  Suck it, cancer!
So my experiment was a huge success!  I had originally thought when I signed up that my realistic goal would be to finish in under 5 hours, but I changed this goal to 4:30 after my last 20 miler.  I am not upset about missing this goal at all considering that my last marathon at IM Chatty was 7 hours! But perhaps the best part in knowing I can still do marathons is knowing that I still have several months left before tri season starts to run another marathon!

Happy running, y'all!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Finale: Greenville Sprint Triathlon Race Report

The 2106 Greenville Sprint means I still have 90 years
to prepare!
My last race of the triathlon season is finally over, and I am soooo happy!  The Greenville Sprint, one of my favorite races of the Set Up SC event series is always a barn burner with all the Greenville triathletes bringing their A games.  I had already played my A game at Lake Logan, so Greenville was more like a D or E race, especially since it fell just one week after Lake Logan.   The only goal I had in mind for this race was to finish.  While I did look at my splits from 2013 to get an idea of where I should be for this race, I didn't think about surpassing any of them.  

Since this was a sprint race which fell right after Logan, I really didn't do anything to prepare for the race.  I swam once, ran twice, and rode my bike the Saturday before the race.  I woke up Sunday morning feeling calm and happy and really enjoyed chatting with everyone before the race.  The mood was relaxed and upbeat since a lot of athletes were also finishing their season with this race.  I did not begin to feel sickly nervous until we had to line up for the swim start.  Then my stomach started doing its usual flip flopping and my heart rate just about went through the roof watching the elites start their swim. When it came time for me to jump in the pool, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack.  If I had to sign up for triathlons based on how anxious I felt before the race, I would never do one.  Luckily, my nerves settle as soon as I start swimming and by the time I cross the finish line, I have all but forgotten how horrible I felt at the start.

Swim: 8:28
Lots of people were diving into the water, but I opted to jump for fear that my goggles would leak.  I should have dove in because my goggles filled up with water immediately, something that has never happened before.  I wear contacts, so this made for some painful and squinty swimming, but I kept my eyes squinted on the black line and made my way down the lanes.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who had seeded themselves incorrectly on the swim and I encountered massive pile ups at the first three lane changes.  I felt like I was in a water polo match with all the shoving and colliding that was going on.  Finally, after 200m I found room to swim and I started finding my groove.  I hit the ladder at exactly 8:08 minutes, but had to run to transition giving me a total swim of 8:28, slower than previous times, but considering the congestion, I was pretty happy.

Bike:  46:33
My fastest bike at this race was in 2011 and that was a 44 minute bike split.  I knew I would be no where near that time, but I felt like I should be close to or even under the 49 minute mark which was my split in 2013. I was riding my training wheels and not my race wheels which would slow me down some, but the course is one I was very familiar with and comfortable riding.  Ben, a friend of mine, passed me immediately on the bike and I used him as a chase rabbit for almost all of the bike course.  Every time I wanted to sit up and slack off a little, I thought about Ben getting farther away, so I kept hammering and trying to keep him in my sights.  When I cruised into transition at 46 minutes, I was so happy that Ben had been there for me to chase because I would have never hit that time otherwise. My bike time this year was three minutes faster than 2013, so I was pretty happy to hit 46 min. especially on training wheels.
courtesy of Pace Running

Run:  25:12
Unfortunately, chasing Ben came with a high price.  My legs were not wanting to have any part of the run course.  I had to have a real mental fight with myself to not walk.  Since there were Berea students volunteering out of the course and at aid stations, I had to really fight to smile, act happy, and look like I was running strongly.  As soon as I would pass them, I would feel my shoulders slouch, my feet start to shuffle, and my face turn back to one of pain.  But knowing that Berea students were out on the course kept me motivated and forced me to push through the pain that I was feeling.  When I finally headed down the dirt access road to the finish line, I was suffering, but I knew that my race was almost over so I could endure just a few more minutes.
courtesy of Pace Running

courtesy of Pace Running

My finish time was 1:22 which is my third fastest time at this course.  This made me happy on many levels, but mainly I was happy at my performance having just raced a hard half the week before.  I beat my 2013 time (the last time I raced) by 3 minutes which was also reason to celebrate, and my time was good enough to land me the second place podium spot which is always nice.  I had a pretty solid season this year and plan to work on my weak areas in the off season.  This season was all about transformation, and I feel that I transformed myself into an athlete that in many ways closely mirrored the one I used to be before my cancer diagnosis.  While I am not the same athlete I used to be (and never will be),  being able to hit some of my old times has been both rewarding and fulfilling, and it has given me motivation and drive for next season.  As I transition from triathlon training to running, I plan to keep swimming and biking once a week until the winter months and will then take a complete hiatus to recharge my batteries. I have been incredibly lucky and fortunate to have had such an amazing season and cannot wait to tackle 2017!

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Race Stats:
Swim: 8:28
T1: 1:02
Bike: 46:33
T2: 1:12
Run: 25:12
Total Time:  1:22:25 (2nd in age group, 14th overall)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chasing the Demon: Lake Logan Half Ironman Race Report

Photo credit:  Joanna Kelly

It's been a year since my 2015 debacle at the Lake Logan Half.  That demon race was one of the most physically painful races I have ever done, and the memory of that agony almost kept me from signing up for it again in 2016.   But being the glutton for punishment that I am, I pulled the trigger and vowed that this year would be A LOT different.  This race would not get the better of me this time.  No, this time, I would conquer this demon and show it who is boss!

Last year, I went into Logan with little training, and I was still recovering from the residual effects of chemo treatments, not to mention the pain from physical scarring that my poor backside and inner thigh were still feeling from my cancer surgery.  All this, combined with severe neuropathy in my feet, made for a long, agonizing day.  I hate it when races get the better or me, and this race definitely had my number, so my goal this year was to conquer the demon by (#1) beating my time from last year and (#2) feel good doing it.

For this year's race, I trained pretty heavily all summer.  I felt like I had a good, solid base, and my race times were pretty much where I thought they should be at this point in the season.  Everything seemed to be falling into place.

Race shirt
Race morning arrived early and the weather looked like it was going to be cooperative with overcast skies and starting temps in the low 70s.  Even the water temperature was cooperating which made all the wetsuit lovers very happy.    I love racing, but I absolutely detest the night before and morning of a race.  I feel sick, anxious, fearful, and doubtful about my training.   It's a horrible combination, but as soon as the gun goes off, it all dissipates into the water, and I feel strangely calm and relaxed.  This wasn't so much the case for this race, though, as my nerves were still a little jittery in the swim.  I felt good swimming, but I didn't feel effortless and I remember feeling like I had been swimming a really long time (not a good sign).  When I finally emerged from the swim, 39 minutes later (three minutes slower than last year), I knew that this was NOT the way I wanted to start my race.  I hurried to my bike and headed out for a 56 mile ride.

Swimmers coming in. Photo Credit:  Jenn Arends

Coming out of the water in my twelve year old wetsuit!
Photo credit:  Nicole Rambsey

Photo Credit:  Nicole Ramsbey

The bike ride at Logan is fun, but also challenging.  It has some hills and false flats, but some great descents as well.  The first 25 miles are awesome, but then the climbing begins and a really long climb around mile 40-41 will tear your legs off if you are not ready for it.  The hardest thing for me on the bike during any race is riding conservatively.  I have to remind myself that there is still a run section to do after the bike, so I can't just go wide open. The problem was determining just how hard to go without overdoing it.   In the past, I had this figured out pretty well, but with everything that has happened with me the past two years, especially with my feet, I feel like I am starting from scratch.  So I rode this bike course fairly restrained.  I allowed myself to hammer the flats and downhills, but I really tried to save my legs on the hills.  I also forced myself to slow down in order to take in nutrition and fluids.  What was really remarkable about the bike at this year's race was how much better I felt than last year.  By the time I finished the bike last year, I was having back and leg pain, my feet were numb and painful, and I wanted to quit.  This year, I felt pretty strong and most importantly, I was HAPPY!  I actually enjoyed the bike course and although I was glad to be done, I felt like I could have ridden a lot longer.

Finishing the bike
Photo Credit:  Jenn Arends

When I started the run, I felt pretty comfortable.  I was hurting, but not any more than I should be hurting at this point in a half.  I was running a slower pace than I had in training, but this was to be expected in the run portion of a half.  I wanted to run steady and consistent, so I trudged my way up the first three miles (mainly uphill) and tried to improve my pace on the downhill portion on the next three miles.  Since this is a two loop course, I knew I would have to do the three mile uphill portion twice, and I was not looking forward to it.  When I started the second loop, I was pretty happy with the way things were shaping up.  At the pace I was going, I would take almost 20 minutes off my run time from last year.  This motivated me and around mile 8, I decided I would walk the aid station in order to drink more.  Big mistake.  As soon as I stopped running, my body took this to mean that I was done for the day.  It was already feeling cantankerous and my legs seemed to just shut down.  When I started back running, I immediately got stitches in both sides (maybe I drank too much at the aid station?) and had to walk again.  I got really angry with myself for walking.  I was watching my time slip through my fingers, and I was furious.   I cussed the race for all it was worth and swore I would never do it again.  My body was obviously not cut out for half racing anymore.  This walk/run battle ensued all the way to the 10 mile mark and then I forced myself to run without stopping for the next mile.  At mile 11, I walked again and then managed to run all the way to mile 12.  Mile 12-13 was a major battle.  I kept telling myself that I was almost done with the race, so I could suck it up for ten more minutes, but my body kept fighting back.  I wanted to cry, but was too mad.  I was able to run the last quarter mile to the finish line and finally crossed the line in a time of 6:34.   My first words to Regina when I finished was "F*@& this race!"  I was upset with my performance.  I felt like I had crumbled under the pressure.  The demon wasn't conquered; I had simply chased it for 70.3 miles.

Wondering what I am doing by signing up for this race
Photo Credit:  Nicole Ramsbey

Feeling good for loop one on the run

It is always easy in hindsight to feel like you could have gone harder or could have done something differently in a race, and I start doing this as soon as the race is over.   I had beat my time from last year by 18 minutes of which I was pretty proud, but I wasn't all that happy because I felt that I should have bested it by much more.  I was satisfied with my race, but dissatisfied with it as well.   I am my own worst critic, and usually find more to criticize in a race than praise.  However, after talking with some friends and taking a few days to reflect, I tried to look at my performance in a different light. Instead of thinking about all the things my body didn't want to do or couldn't do, I thought about all the things I asked my body to do that it DID do.  I asked my lungs, legs, and arms to swim 1.2 miles, and they happily obliged.  I asked my legs after having a gracilis muscle cut out from my inner thigh that has left my leg permanently misshapen and scarred to power me up and down hills for 56 miles, and they obliged.  I asked my numb, tingly neuropathic feet to carry me for 13.1 miles, and they obliged.  I asked my body to push itself to its limits for 70.3 miles with just one kidney, with my colon having been rerouted, and with my posterior having been hacked on and cut up before doctors tried to stitch me back together.  And my body obliged.  I could list a lot of things that I wish had gone differently in this race in regards to my performance, but when I look at it how far I have come, and the racing possibilities that the future holds, I end up looking at this race in a completely different way.   I gave this race my best, and at the end of the day, that is all I can hope for.   Lake Logan continues to be that elusive demon triathlon that haunts me, but that just makes me want to work that much harder at conquering it in the future.  One day, I will write a race report for this race and will call it "Conquering the Demon."

My dad and the sign my step mom made for me on the course

Numbers at a Glance:

                                 2015                                                                  2016
Swim:                      36:52                                                                 39:49
T1:                             4:29                                                                   3:19
Bike:                        3:26:59                                                              3:17:54
T2:                             2:52                                                                    2:23
Run:                         2:41:20                                                              2:31:21
Total Time:              6:52                                                                     6:34

Special thanks to all my friends and fellow competitors who cheered for me during this long, long day.  I am lucky to have such a great crew who support me regardless of how I perform.  Also thanks to my parents for surprising me out on the course and making my day.  Thanks to Rev3, Powerbar, SBR, and Wattie Ink for being the best sponsors EVER.  And of course, thanks to Chris for always holding down the fort at home, so I can chase my dreams and sometimes catch them.

Next up:  Greenville Sprint!