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Archive for September, 2013

Reality (or Why I’m Not Too Upset About My Wonky Heels)

chicago marathon 2012 epic sign

Ah, reality, how humble and distraught thou can render me.

Current reality will reveal the following: My race pace 20 miler three weeks out from the Chicago Marathon was an absolute disaster.

I could not hold 6:50 pace. I got about three miles in before both of my heels (especially the left one) became extremely stiff, limiting mobility, sending sharp pains through both Achilles, and ultimately, slowing me down. A lot.

Running with a partner, I felt quite embarrassed that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish what I set out to do. I worried that I was letting her down, that she might be better off running ahead rather than slowing pace to accommodate my wonky state and subsequent moodiness.

I told her she should carry on, to leave me behind. I didn’t want to hold her back. But she stuck with me, slower pace and all. She even helped me find some peace of mind despite the compounding frustration setting in. For that I am grateful.

It is no secret: the sub-3 hour marathon is my white whale. And facing yet another injury setback while training for this lofty goal just feels like a low blow.

Despite the diminished demeanor, I finished the 20 miles. But in the immediate aftermath, my calves didn’t seem to work very well. I hobbled around like a newborn calf for three days and am just now back to walking normal.

This monstrous hybrid failing of my body — some sort of calcaneal bursitis mixed with Achilles tendonitis and tight, cramping calves — has been hindering my training off and on since July. But it really struck me down after my PR half marathon on August 25. That was one of my best run races to date, but by the time I got home, my entire left heel had swollen to the size of a tennis ball and I could hardly walk. Recovery became laborious. In fact, worried I would lose my fitness, I didn’t allow it to fully recover before picking up with more speed work.

Unfortunately, this heel nuisance seems to be exacerbated by speed work. The more I run up on my toes (inevitable at faster pace), the more load is placed on the Achilles, the more inflamed the bursa becomes, leading to slow, stiff, swollen bouts of BLAH. I have been giving myself extra rest days and dialing back the mileage, but, as proved to me by failing the most important workout prior to race day, it ain’t gonna happen — not right now anyway.

When I hobbled home from my 20 miler Saturday, in between foam rolling my calves and getting on with my day, I budgeted a good hour to feeling sorry for myself.

Boo hoo. Woe is me. Life sucks.

Except, life doesn’t suck. Life kicks ass. Sure, it’s a roller coaster — one that induces vomiting from time to time — but being down is where we have an opportunity to get back up.

There will be other marathons. I still have plenty of time to run my best races. Right now, I need to focus on lining up at the Chicago Marathon 100% healthy, so that’s what I’m going to try to do. I might aim for a 3:05 finish, or a 3:10. I don’t know yet. My calves and heels will tell me what I am capable of on that day; but to expect a sub-3 finish with such little dedicated race pace training the last 6 weeks is a bit unrealistic at this time.

Of course, all of the above truth and rationale is made more palatable by the fact that I GOT INTO THE 2014 BOSTON MARATHON, baby! Whew! Just barely! But I’m in, and that’s what counts.

Having run the race this year (and negative split), I already know it’s a PR waiting to happen. If sub-3 is in my near future, it’s more than likely going to come on April 21, 2014. That gives me plenty of time to heal up, take some time off from heavy training, and to start over new (and healthy) next year.

Whatever happens on October 13th will just be a bonus.

boston marathon finish line 2013


Hippie Your Way to a Groovy, Happy Day: The 2013 Peace, Run and 50k Race Report from Run Woodstock

(Image courtesy of Amanda Runnion)

(Image courtesy of Amanda Runnion)

In the fall of 2011, while recovering in the back of an SUV from a particularly muddy climb up what the Michigan locals called “the stripper pole” section of trail, a teammate of mine from the Dances with Dirt 100k relay team mentioned a peculiar event that had just taken place: Run Woodstock.

“Wait,” I interrupted, “You’re saying that a bunch of people get together for three days to just camp, run crazy distances and hang out?”

“Yep. And there’s a ‘natural 5k’, don’t forget.”

“You mean, ‘natural’… as in, naked?”

“You got it.”

“I’m in.”

And I was. In 2012, I may not have run the natural 5k, but I did pace the women’s overall 100 mile champion to a 21 hour+ finish while spending the rest of the laid back weekend drinking beer and hanging out with awesome, like-minded folks.

A week after returning home, I circled the 2013 date on my calendar and encouraged my dad to come out from Houston to join in the adventure with me. With race options from the half marathon to a hundred miles and everything in between, I knew that a weekend in the woods with friends, family and a cooler of beer would be something I would look forward to all year.

I didn’t plan on toeing the line a bit hobbled — both by my heels and my low alcohol tolerance — but life throws us curveballs all the time. It’s how we swing at them that determines who we are.

Pre-Race, Saturday, September 7, 2013, 4:30 a.m.

*BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Oh… my… what the… who was… ah, shit.

I’m hung over.

Hung over! WHY!?!? WHY DID I DO THIS!?!? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS!?!?

Oh yeah, I am. I’m responsible. Well, shit.

Sure, it sounded good at the time. In fact, it sounded like a GREAT idea at the time:

Carbo load with beer! Why not? My heels and whatever Achilles-tendonitis-and-or-calcaneus-bursitis have limited my training to the point where I didn’t even think I would be able to run the race, let alone “race” it so let’s add something new to this race experience by getting loaded the night before! Your heels are gonna hurt anyway, let’s kill the pain!

At least, this is how I remember the decision making going down. Actually, as the fog clears, I realize it was less calculated. Only once I was four or five beers in (enough to put me in the ‘beyond buzzed’ category) was I able to justify my position with nonsense. And now… well, now it’s too late.

I’m parched. I’m dizzy. I’m running 50k.

I’m running 50k! I have the ability to run 50k… hung over… with wonky heels.

Life could be so much worse.

Dad wakes up beside me and our tent comes alive with amateur detective skills as we try to piece together all the shenanigans from last night. I am shocked to hear that I was a bit bossy towards my father in my delirium. Okay, so I’m not shocked, but I am embarrassed. I do my best to apologize before I force down a banana, chug multiple bottles of water and lube up for a long, long day.

(Carbo loading with my friends from New Leaf. L-R: Amanda, Mike (Dad), Jen, me, Kirsten. Image courtesy of Todd Brown.)

(Carbo loading with my friends from New Leaf Ultra Runs. L-R: Amanda, Mike (Dad), Jen, me, Kirsten. Image courtesy of Todd Brown.)

Loop 1, Miles 1-15.5

It is still very dark as an amoeba of groggy headlamps makes its way towards the forest, where 15.5 miles of trail waits to inflict damage on my psyche and soul. My first several steps, as expected, are tender and sore. The backs of my heels — the absolute bane of my summer training — don’t quite seem to be in agreement with me today. I expect they will loosen up and not hurt as much after a while, but I know better than to think the aches will go away completely.

Luckily, my friend Jen is alongside to keep my mind off this fact. And I also have to pay attention to the trail in front of me for fear of–

*BOOM-THWACK-SNAP*

Tripping. Tripping on the trail. Nice save, I tell myself, nice save.

I look down at my watch and am astonished to see I don’t have one on. Hm… no watch. Hung over. This IS a race of firsts.

So I don’t know how fast I’m going. That’s probably a good thing. I’m starting to feel a little bit better as I move along at what feels like a consistent pace, but if I knew my speed I would probably spend too much time beating myself up.

In fact, I interrupt myself, let’s just stop beating ourselves up NOW, shall we? You’re here to have fun. You had some fun last night, you’re having some fun now, you’re having fun, period. HAVE FUN!

And, just like that, I enter happy runner world bliss, not giving two shits about anything other than moving forward in time and space… and getting to an aid station because boy am I hungry.

At the first aid station, approximately four miles into the loop, I spy peanut butter and jelly. The volunteers look at me like I’m Godzilla on the attack as I stuff my face faster than I can chew. NOM NOM NOM. I grab a handful of Saltines for the trail and get going, intent on not stopping long enough for my heels to stiffen.

On my way out I wave goodbye to Jen who kept me company for these first several miles. Today’s going to be one of those days where I want the distraction of conversation so I’m glad I got through the darkness with a friend.

Now the sun is coming up, I’m starting to feel less nauseous and I have the whole day ahead of me.

The Run Woodstock loop is made up of mostly single track trail through luscious forest, but there are a few seemingly long sections of road that gnaw away at my patience. I remember this from last year; however, I didn’t run a step of last year’s pacing duties during the sunlight hours. I ran it all at night, so seeing the road stretch out in front of me tests my ability to shut off the negativity that seems to always want me to quit when things get tough.

Not today, negativity. Not today.

I spend most of miles 4 through 10 ping-ponging among a solid group of runners. My pace, while certainly below what I am use to, feels great and suits the wonkiness of my heels. I stop every once in a while to stretch out my Achilles, and I embrace the opportunity to slow down and power hike when I feel like my heart rate is too high.

By the time I hit the third aid station, around mile 11 or so, I conclude that my body has won the war against hungover dehydration. I celebrate by stuffing massive amounts of peanut butter and jelly in my mouth.

NOM NOM NOM

And then…

*ZOOM*

*ZOOM, ZOOM*

*ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOOOOOM*

What the? Half marathoners. Blazing. Flying! Right past me. I knew this was going to happen, that I would be embracing my inner tortoise, comfortably laboring along only to have my ego slaughtered by slender speedsters. With each approaching huff and puff gaining from behind, I politely step off trail to let them through.

Then immediately chase them. Duh.

By the time I hit the end of loop one my heart rate is way higher than it should be, the sun is beating down from above and when I see the clock reads 3 hours and change I know this is going to be the longest 50k of my life.

But, as if the running gods could actually feel my pain, at the start/finish line aid station I am gifted with the glorious grace of… GRILLED CHEESE.

The kind volunteer who offers it to me marvels at my ability to clear the plate. Well, I hope he is marveling and not chastising. Either way, that grilled cheese doesn’t stand a chance.

NOM NOM NOM

Before I head out for the second loop I make a stop at my tent to roll out my calves with The Stick. My heels are really thumping me with aches now. Tight calves are often the culprit. I back all of this up with 800 mg of Ibuprofen and a nice long chug of water.

I stumble out of the tent and see my friend, Kirsten, who is running the 50 mile race.

“Hey, Kirsten, wait up!” I call out, anxious to share more miles with friendly faces. If I’m going to be out there for another 3+ hours, I want to have some conversation to keep my occupied.

Loop 2, Miles 15.5-31

Kirsten has showed up on this blog many times, notably here and here. It’s been cool getting to know her over the last year and a half, another testament to the notion that ultrarunners are awesome by default, regardless of gender, occupation, speed. We run long, and in doing so, share so much.

Her 50 mile race speed is slightly faster than my current 50k race speed, but I don’t want to be alone right now so I just stay on her heels as we head back into the forest. We chat about everything and nothing at all, keen on sharing elevated heart rate stories caused by the blazing fast half marathoners who caught us on the first go around.

My legs are getting heavy, and by the time we hit the road section I can tell I need to slow myself down. I wish Kirsten the best with the rest of her race before I stop, stretch, then settle back into a slow slog — smile still ear to ear.

Because really, what is there not to be happy about? I am still moving, right? I’m still having fun, seeing my friends, enjoying time alone in the forest. I’m alive, I’m sound. It would be easy for me to feel sorry for myself right now because I’m not 100% but I’m not having it. As long as I’m able to run — period — I am going to be happy about it. That’s the choice I make.

That choice, and the bliss that goes with it, is what convinces me to take the time to stop around mile 23. I’m really starting to feel the thumping in my heels now and I know that taking my shoes off and massaging my heels will give me some relief. I sit down right beside the trail and do this, to both feet, for a few minutes. The relief I get from it is well worth the time lost. I’m not breaking any records today anyway, so I might as well be as comfortable as possible.

Back on my feet now, my smiles grows along with my effort. I really, really needed that.

I reach a road crossing and tuck in behind a friendly woman in pink, donning a Marathon Maniacs jersey. Her name is Amanda and this 50k is her very first ultra.

ULTRA VIRGIN! YES!

And immediately behind me is a familiar voice. I turn to see it’s Betty, another friendly gal whom I met at Ice Age this year, where she was running her first ultra.

We’re just one happy ultra world, ain’t we!?

It turns out we are all New Leafers (hooray!) and we all have a lot in common: marathon-crazed, adventure-driven, Bears fans. We will spend the next (and last) 8 miles running together, enjoying a free-flowing, easy conversation that does wonders for my achy feet.

(Following Betty. Image courtesy of Amanda Runnion.)

(Following Betty. Image courtesy of Amanda Runnion.)

Now I’m not even aware my heels hurt anymore. I just concentrate on the company and conversation, quick to share my race experiences on nutrition, pacing and everything in between. The three of us are forced to stay on our toes as multiple masses of mountain bikers haphazardly fly towards us.

Death wish on handlebars.

After successful navigation through the gauntlet of disgruntled bikers, we are almost done. I can hear the music and laughter of the camp off in the distance. Betty and Amanda pick up the pace. I do all I can to stick with them, but as we approach the last 800 meters or so, I’m more interested in just finishing rather than finishing with a kick, so they leave me in their dust.

I couldn’t be happier for them both.

When I cross the line myself, arms up in triumph after 6 hours and 22 minutes of running, they are both there with big smiles and individual age group awards.

Hot dog! What a day! Now somebody get me a beer!

run woodstock 2013 post race

(Post race smiles: Betty, me, Amanda. Image courtesy of Amanda Runnion)

Post-Race, Hair of the Dog, Hippies Abound

If you assumed I would celebrate this 50k finish with an Anti-Hero IPA from Revolution Brewing, then you are most definitely correct. Waiting for me by the cooler was my old man, himself content with his own half marathon finish, and there, the two of us rejoiced in one of nature’s longest pastimes: relaxation.

With our tent situated right on the trail coming out of the start/finish line aid station, we spent the next several hours cheering runners (50 milers, 100k’ers, 100 milers) along with the raucous sound of beer and cowbell.

Much of the rest of the evening was spent in a similar manner. We ate, we drank, we cheered. We took in live music, shared war stories with friends, and some of us (not me) even enjoyed a naked jog through the woods.

But most of all, we celebrated the peace that is being in nature, running long and being alive.

For sure, I will be back to Run Woodstock. As for how sober I will remain, well, there are no guarantees.