October 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
October 24, 2010 § 2 Comments
>Yesterday I set out for an “easy” long run. Mostly easy in the sense of logistics and familiarity with the course because I picked my favorite tried and true route: AT from South Mountain to Weverton Cliffs, and back. 14.1 miles out, 14.1 miles back. Water and bathrooms at the start and midway. The toughest part of this run for me has always been the first three miles. Before my body really gets a chance to warm up, I’m climbing South Mountain. And for those of you who haven’t done it, it feels like it goes on, and on, and on. For a small mountain, it sure is relentless. As I ran yesterday, I was brought back to a day almost exactly five years ago to my first ultra: JFK 50 mile.
I realized yesterday as I ran that I have never really shared on the blogosphere how I ended up at the start line on that crisp November morning. So, here it is, my story of how I began my love affair with ultrarunning. My “Story of Us.”
The story actually begins in May of 2005. I was playing club lacrosse for Navy at the time. We had finished regular season and were starting the prep for Nationals in a couple weeks. We were one of the favorites to win that year, it was a great time for us. It was a Sunday, and I had to come back to school early for practice. I had left that morning after making plans with my teammate Jen to have her help me out with my chemistry homework after practice. I came to practice that day ready to play, but I knew that something wasn’t right. Our coach struggled with how to tells us the news that would end up changing our team forever: Jen had been in a skydiving accident that day. She was in a coma, and things didn’t look good. The ironic part of it all was that she had told a few of us she was going to go skydiving for the first time that day, but we were under a strict oath not to tell coach because we knew she wouldn’t allow it.
Things from there were a blur. I guess we went to nationals, and I guess I played. Honestly, it was the furthest thing from all of our minds. Jen was in a coma for several days, and as she came out of it they noticed severe brain damage. For the next five months she was in the VA hospital in Bethesda. In true Navy fashion, they had no sympathy for most of us in the situation. Every week I snuck out on a “really really long run” through the gate and into my mom’s car in side street. She’d drive me to the hospital and I’d go sit with Jen for an hour or two, then come home. Many of the other girls on the team did the same. We’d call other people and put the phone up to her ear and swear we could see that she recognized the voices. Every week we swore she squeezed our hands a little harder, or opened her eyes a little bit longer.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. In early October her parents made the decision to remove Jen’s feeding tube. Within a few days she passed away. Everyone on the team handled things a different way. I was close to Jen as a teammate in a way that is special and rare. Her, myself and my best friend Dani composed the best damn navy women’s lacrosse defense that school had ever seen. None of us had real prior lacrosse experience, none of us ever knew what play was what, but we had heart and we worked hard. And we worked well together. The three of us looked out for each other in a way I have rarely seen teammates do. Watching Jen yell at the ref after I got slashed in the face and broke my nose was one of my favorite moments. She had a temper that even the Officers at school were afraid of. More than once Dani and I had to step in and make things right between her and coach. Our defense was inseparable that season before she was hurt, and I didn’t know how to do it without Jen. I didn’t want to. So, when Fall had come, I just didn’t. I didn’t continue to play lacrosse. I could not suit up and play without Jen.
Eventually the Navy caught on to the fact that I wasn’t really playing a sport anymore. Playing a sport or going to intramurals was a requirement of the school. I was stuck and had to do something, but I couldn’t step back on that lacrosse field. One of my friends suggested to me that I run. I knew I wasn’t fast enough for cross country, and intramural cross country was a joke. No, they said. The marathon team. The problem was they had already run their fall marathon – the only thing left to do was either run the JFK 50 mile and do well enough they take me on the team, or run a marathon by myself and try to qualify for Boston (the true requirement to be on the team).
So that was that. Three weeks before the 2005 JFK 50 Mile, I was in. And somehow I managed to dupe 3 other of my teammates into the race as well. We formed Team FISHDO (F___ It, Sh*t Happens, Drive On…Jen’s famous saying) and got ready for the race by running one 16 mile run. I don’t even think all the girls did that.
And there I was in November of 2005, hiking up South Mountain and watching people run by me up the mountain. How can they run the whole way up? Right then and there, I made it a goal of mine to one day be strong enough to run up that mountain. On that day though, I struggled to find the strength to even finish the race.
Back to 2010. By the time all of this went through my head, I realized I was halfway up South Mountain. For those of you nerdy graph and chart people, click here for the link to the route with the elevation profile:
I realized at that moment, that I could run the whole way. It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I did it. I got to the top in 31 minutes. Over the past 5 years I have probably run that mountain 15 times; my previous attempts had taken 40-42 minutes.
In the past five years, ultrarunning has taught me that I’m stronger than I think I am. It’s shown me that even when things are seemingly at their worst, they won’t stay that way. The mountains and the trails will be there no matter the season, no matter what life has thrown at me. They will be there to calm me and comfort me. To prove that the world is bigger than just me.
In the past five years I’ve learned that sometimes you won’t be able to finish the race. Sometimes the hard work you’ve put forth still isn’t enough to win. Sometimes you have to walk away, and try again the next day. And sometimes, it just might take five years to finally finish what you started.
October 20, 2010 § 2 Comments
>As racing season comes and goes, I look around the usual blog roll and see alot of…..well, a lot of “what could have beens.” Failure is always an interesting things to watch people encounter. Most times when people do fail, everyone side steps the issue very delicately, never saying the word out loud. We are afraid that by reminding each other of a failure, one won’t see it as an opportunity to get better, but rather a strike against them. What people often don’t realize is that just because they failed to reach a goal, they, as a person, are not a failure. But yes, they still “failed.” And that’s okay.
Failure inevitably happens to me throughout the racing season because, for me, the race is what matters. When you race about once a month, not every race will be the perfect one. Yes, the training is the journey. The training builds character and makes me who I am. The training makes the racing worth it. But, in the end, the race matters. I train TO race.
Failure happens for a reason. Whenever something doesn’t go as planned in my races, it’s important to me to reflect. Why didn’t things go well? Nutrition? Over training? Under training? Mental approach? There is always, always a reason. I don’t believe in just having a bad day. Especially in endurance events, some portion of each day will be unpleasant….that’s inevitable. If you train well, you will be able to adapt to any conditions in a race – heat, snow, downpour, stomach issues – and overcome them. If you train well, you will have your worst days in training, not in the race. If you pay attention to your body, you will avoid injury and become stronger throughout the training process, not weaker. I believe these things because I truly believe in the training process….I have to.
As athletes, we will fail. We will work our asses off, race, and not do well. But instead of wallowing (you’re allowed a day or two), instead of just saying you had a bad day or the conditions weren’t on your side, accept the fact that you failed. Accept that in at least one respect, you did not prepare enough. And that’s okay. That’s part of being an athlete, shoot, that’s part of being a human. Competition exists because in every race some will fail, and some will win. But when you’re not the winner, you know it wasn’t your best effort. Your training partners know it. And they know you deserve to get out there and show everyone what your best really is.
There will always be an excuse, if you look for it. Don’t look for the excuses, look for the reasons (because there is one), and then make a change. Make yourself stronger for the next time you compete….because you will. And maybe that race won’t turn out like you want either. But that’s why we do what we do. If I was already as fast as I ever wanted to be, I’d be sitting at Mad River right now in my Ravens jerseys talking to dudes who probably couldn’t even tell me what 3 sports are involved in a triathlon.
But, I’m not. I’m laying on the couch with The Stick, rubbing out my legs and debating if I can hit a ride this afternoon after a long recovery run this morning. Because in the past year, I’ve had some great races, but I have also failed. And I’m making changes and training smarter and I’m looking forward to my next race.
In order to avoid failure at HURT in January, I have my work cut out for me. I know what I need to do to get there, and I know the time it will require from me. So here’s my shortlist of reasons to get out there and train this fall/winter, despite the cold. Or the darkness. Or the cold darkness.
-Fall. Leaves. In the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even in Patapsco.
-Sweating on crisp mornings and not feeling like you just lost 1/2 your body weight.
-Knowing that you’re now stronger than everyone who DIDN’T get out of bed because its 40 degrees and raining.
-More running with a headlamp. Because hey, night runs are fun.
-The heat training in the sauna feels best after a long run in the cold.
-Not having to carry bajillions of gallons of water with you for your long run.
-Without the summer leaves, getting to see how far the view from the top *really* is.
October 4, 2010 § 2 Comments
>So, three weeks after IM Wisconsin seems like a good time to sit down and write my race report. Before I pick it apart, I want to first say I’m very happy with how I did there. A 15 minute PR on a harder course is what I would call a success. I came away from the race very happy about 2/3 segments, and am not bothered by the third. This race showed me that if I decide to make the time to do some serious work at the distance/sport, it would pay off. After Louisville last year, I wasn’t sure if I liked the distance. Kind of like after Western States I wasn’t too sure about the 100 mile distance. But, after Old Dominion, I was sold. Granted I didn’t have a 6 hour PR at IM Wisco but it helped me see the promise of the distance. I felt like this race kept me humble and was quick to show me the areas where I didn’t train hard enough. But, it allowed me some slack and let me perform well in the areas I had worked on. My sub-11 finish is still illusive, but I know that when I make the decision to go after it, I can do it.
Now for the nitty gritty stuff. The race starts at 7am. I walked over to the start and went to my bike first. I was happy to find that my tires were still inflated this year. The part I did have some trouble with was the aero bottle. This was going to be my first ride with it, and as I stuck in the full bottle I realized 2 things – one, I hadn’t cut the straw or adjusted it to be comfortable while I ride, and two, I just plain hadn’t installed the bottle holder correctly because when it was full it kept wobbling and falling out. I used my imagination though and was able to facet a quick fix that I figured would get me through the day. I found the body marking, and headed down to the water. The sunrise this morning was Amazing. watching the safety people paddle out as the first light came up was calming. The calm didn’t last long though, as they started forcing us into the water around 630. Determined to hold off getting into the 67 degree water as long as I could, I slowly pulled on my wetsuit and headed towards the back of the line of 2500 athletes. I ended up entering the water around 645, which still felt pretty early to me. I swam out to a floating dock about 100 meters away and huddled with everyone else trying to keep warm. My plan for this was a risky one, and I knew it. I was going to start as close to the front as I could get, without actually being in the front. My reasoning was that although I’m not the fastest, I’m confident and able in the water. If I could just hold on to the crowd, I’d get swept through the swim with the pack. The cannon went off and my theory was tested. The first 800 meters felt like an out of body experience. Everything you hear about it feeling like a “washing maching” is really the best way to describe it. Punched, kicked, and frustrated – but I was staying calm and collected. I was close to the line of the buoys, and uncomfortable as it was to swim in the group, I knew I was making good time. The turns were pretty rough. Everyone would finally stretch out and then we’d all group together again. At the end of the first lap I checked my watch – 34. Wait….what!? That’s faster than I’ve every swum in a race. That allowed me to relax. I knew I would swim a little slower than that, but I still had a lot in my little arms, so I relaxed and didn’t think much about it. Before I knew it I was heading in to the shore. Seeing a 1:11 on my watch as I was exiting was unreal to me. I ran up the ramp (very dizzing) and into the Monoma Terrace. While this makes it a long transition, its really well run and the volunteers are awesome. They got me my bag flawlessly and I was out the door on my bike.
This was where my fun was to begin. I was confident in my biking abilities but I was also a little weary after I heard so many stories about how hard the bike course was. So I wanted to relax for the first loop and just get my rhythm. There isn’t too much to report. The support out on the course is awesome. On all the climbs you have great fan support helping you hammer up it. And the volunteers were great at the water stops too. The sun came out and it started to get a little warm. I was drinking as much as I could. Unforrtunately my old TT bike had 3 bottle holders, and now I was down to 2. This is definitely something I want to fix, as I could have been drinking a lot more. Still, I was eating well and felt pretty good. I was passing a lot of girls in my AG and that was a confidence boost too. I hit each of the three segments pretty much at an each equal pace. My computer read 19.2/19.2/19.0. Ultimately the results show me a little slower – either way thats a darn good ride for that course.
Now time to tackle the run. Inspired by how good I felt last year getting off the bike I was expecting the same here. It couldn’t have been more different. Right off the bike my legs felt like bricks. I wasn’t able to gain any sense of my pace and I just felt like I was working too hard. As bright and sunny as that day was, I was starting to have some trouble shaking the clouds from my brain. I would like to think this is where my time spent alone in the mountains during ultras pays off. As bad as it was, I knew 2 things. One, this too shall pass. I still had 4+ hours ahead of me, and I would not feel this bad the whole time. Two, if I keep moving, I’m probably not going as slow as it feels. Sure enough, I realized I was still making about 9:15’s. That allowed me to shake the bad thoughts and relax a little. Despite my plan to run through the aid stations because I had a hand bottle, I let myself walk through them just for a mental break. As I was returning to state street on the first lap, I felt loose and excited. I was almost there.
Almost. Thirteen miles of Almost.
Heading back out on lap 2 my stomach started to get queasy. Of course – now my legs feel good so it only makes sense the stomach would fail me. 18 miles in and I couldn’t take a sip of water without it coming back up. Looking back, this is clearly dehydration. The lack of the third bottle on the bike had finally caught me. Again, I knew a couple things. One, this too shall pass. And two, stopping for 2 minutes to regain my composure will cost me a lot less in the end than struggling to get through 6 miles. So, I walked through the aid station at mile 6, got some food, and sat on a curb. Only for two minutes. But I sat, kept my head down, and got myself together. I was 6 miles from a finish. 6 miles from a PR. 6 miles away from being an Ironman. Mind over matter, I got up and shuffled. I hit the turnaround and realized i also needed to hit the bathroom. In one minute I was in and out and felt MUCH better. My stomach got whatever it was out, and I could move at a decent pace again. I still had to stop and walk every mile, but at least when I ran I could move. This was also when Erin Feldhausen caught me. She leapfrogged with me and knowing she was up there kept me moving. Before I knew it I was back on State Street heading to the finish. Once again, I was an Ironman.
Despite my 4:18 marathon at the end, I was able to see how far I’d come from the last year. I was 30th/13th/13th and 13th overall in the AG of 100+ people. My bike efforts over the past summer had paid off. The only blip in the training – a lack of brick workouts and long runs – was evident. But, you can’t expect something to be there when you didn’t train for it. I couldn’t expect my marathon to somehow have gotten faster without doing any speedwork. So that’s okay. And shoot – somehow I got faster swimming without ever actually swimming. Woohoo!
Would I recommend this race? ABSOLUTELY! The people in town were amazing, the town itself was fab, and I had a total blast. Definitely more challenging course than IMLOU, but the essence of the race makes up for it! And a special thanks to Erin for making me feel so welcome there, cheering me on, and being there for a hug at the finish!