Sunday, July 8, 2018

Cry Me a River 100k: Summer Runnin'

The last 3 races I have done have all been in the snow, so I expected heat to bring an additional challenge to yesterday's Cry Me a River 100k. Despite the string of 90+ degree humid days the midwest has been seeing, the forecast indicated a high of only 80 for the race. What luck! It wasn't until the race finished that I realized that the last time I had run this far in the summer was in 2011 at the Burning River 100 miler. The heat and I didn't get along well then, but success at shorter distances over the last couple of summers had led me to believe I had things figured out.

While I had been well prepared for OPSF 50k this March, I had prioritized other things above running over the last 2-3 months, and my fitness had declined:

Still, I managed (thank to impressive efforts by Nathan to rally me during a 90+ degree humid run) a 30 mile training run 3 weeks out, and I trusted my experience to carry me through.

The Cry Me a River race website claims 23,500+ feet of elevation gain over 100 miles, and while I intially expressed my skepticism of this to a local runner (Paul), I became a believer as the triple out and back course allowed me to see every hill six times. The trails weren't technical at all and were impressively dry and hard; my shoes were cleaner when I finished than they had been when I started.

I had my typical plan to walk 1 of out every 10 minutes, but the hills demanded walking more than this. In retrospect, this means that my planned "recovery" while going was consistently replaced by tough uphill hikes. I settled in with a runner named Paul after the few miles, perhaps going a touch faster than I would have alone, but overall comfortable. When we reached the first turn around point at 11 miles, the lead female (last year's winner) greeted us as she ran back out with, "Oh my gosh! There's 5 females within 5 minutes!" I noted this but realized that this early in to the race, the most important thing was to stay steady and be careful not to speed up.

For the next 30-45 minutes, I was able to see the woman ahead of me, Sarka, and I finally caught up to her, thinking we should run together since we had the same pace. I quickly realized this would not work: she was a very strong downhill runner and I ran the gentle inclines while she hiked them. On such an incline, I suddenly found I had passed her and the two women ahead of her. As I came into the 20 mile aid station, I moved in to first place.

The temperatures were rising for the second out and back, and I slowed some as a result. I came to learn that the 4-7.5 mile section of each lap was the toughest, and the return to the start/finish direction was easier than the way out. At the turnaround, I saw Sarka was only 8 minutes behind me (I was not surprised). The other women were further back. I moved a little better on the quicker return trip, but the cumulative hours in the heat, even though it wasn't terribly hot, were adding up. Around mile 38-39, my stomach was sloshing and I hearkened back to Burning River. I needed to get my gut to absorb this water or I was going to end up vomiting and unable to eat. I walked a few minutes without improvement. I was looking forward to taking a wet wipe to the thick layer of salt caked all over my body. That was it--salt! I grabbed a handful of very salty potato chips from the aid station and walked while I let the salt do its trick.

After a few minutes, the stomach slosh was gone, but now I was bonking. I forced down some food, but it was making me nauseous. My breathing was much heavier on the climbs than it should have been. I knew I was dehydrated, so I grabbed a bottle of rocktane to guzzle down as I left at mile 42.

Sarka caught up to me a few miles later, as I had been expecting. She cheered me on and encouraged me: "If you want to race me, just run. I walk all the hills." She said this while setting a blistering pace hiking a steep climb. She was so strong and so friendly about it all. I was genuinely happy for her and felt she deserved the win. At the same time, I had to adjust my goals since now trying to win wasn't realistic. My stomach was acting up again (a poorly guided bite of quesadilla really set me off) and it took my a good 45 minutes to get out of my funk and decide on breaking 17 hours as my new goal. This would still be faster than the previous course record (though this year was admittedly under better conditions). Eating was a real struggle for the rest of the race, but I choked down the calories and made it to the finish line at 16:41. I was 2nd female and 4th overall. Sarka had finished a whole hour before me, and was showered and enjoying a post-race snack when I finished.

As tough as yesterday was, I do feel that I did about as well as I could have given the amount of training I put in. I met some friendly Illinois runners and enjoyed the one patch of hills in a state of fields. All in all, a good (if tough!) experience.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

OPSF 50k: Mud Slushies and STUDs ladies sweep

I chose the OPSF 50k largely because of the timing; it fit well in my training plan for IMTUF 100. Though it was a "B" race, I still decided to race it and I set an audacious goal: to win the women's race. I even made it official by telling people (okay, only Nathan and my mom) that this was my goal. Ultimately, this was a huge factor in maintaining consistency in my training over the past 2 months.

This was the first time in several years that I had managed such consistent training prior to a race, with several 50 mile weeks in a row before a short taper.


Still, the training was focused on IMTUF as the ultimate goal, and so my hard workouts were uphill intervals 1-3 times a week, with less emphasis on long runs and no running at intensity for longer than 3 minutes at a time.

The race is held at Owen Putnam State Forest near Poland, Indiana and offers 14 mile, 50k, and 50 mile distances on a lollipop course. The trails were rolling with some steep hills (I got 4900 feet of elevation gain over the 50k) and not technical, or wouldn't have been if it weren't for the mud. Apparently there is always some mud on the course, but it started raining and snowing a few hours before the race and we were expecting a day of 33 degrees and precipitation.

I started off at the front of the pack, though I didn't feel like I was going out too hard. My first mile was a little fast at 9:51 (my goal was to average 11:30ish miles and break 6 hours) but it had some road and more downhill than up. By 2 minutes in my feet were wet (and would remain so all day) and by 4 minutes in I was totally alone (and would remain so the majority of the day).

The first time around the "pop" of the lollipop course was mildly unpleasant with about 5% of the course made up of ankle deep slush (water and snow mix) in thick mud that sometimes sank down to cover your leg to mid-calf.  Another 10-15% was more "regular" thick mud that was still slow and exhausting to run in. I was on pace, but when I started the second loop around I realized what an advantage it had been to be at the front of the pack before. Now that 50 plus runners had come through, the majority of the trail was thick mud with even more standing water as it rained. I threw out my pace plans and decided to ignore my watch from there on and just go by effort. I then fell several times in a row, each time in the ankle deep mud water. I took a tree branch to the shin with one fall, ripping my favorite tights and giving myself a several inch long area of bruise/scrape that forced me to walk for a few minutes. My gloves were totally soaked now so I took them off since it was actually colder to have them on.

The run back to the start/finish before headed out for a shorter lollipop was definitely the low point of the race. It was now raining ice (I'm not really sure if it was hail or freezing rain) and also snowing. I couldn't feel my feet to have a sense of the trail beneath me. I had a bit of a mental breakdown with lots of swearing at the start/finish turnaround largely centered on confusion about where the trail was (the markings looked like they were blocking the trail) and inability to find my dry pair of gloves. All of this took about 10 minutes, but on the bright side, I gained about 3 minutes of being able to feel my feet, which was enough to lift my mood.

On the way back, I could see the runners coming in and I knew that I had a comfortable lead on second place. Since there was little point in a time goal now, I decided to just focus on keeping moving without pushing myself too hard so I could jump back into training soon after the race. For the last 3 miles of the race, I teamed up with a runner named Jared, who helped make the last part of the race much more enjoyable. We tied for our finish at 6:37 (7th place overall).

Fuller is modeling the finisher's award here:
And I won a beautiful ceramic plate for winning first female:

Aneta, tough as nails, would stick it out for another 29 miles and was the only female to finish the 50 mile race: only 4 people did total! The conditions were truly a special kind of miserable. It was a STUDs ladies sweep of the ultra events of the day!

The challenge wasn't over after the race, unfortunately, as my drive back through Indianapolis required several hours of 15-30 mph on poorly plowed highways as it actively snowed. I passed ~ 30 wrecks in and around Indianapolis. After waking up at 3 AM to get to the race (and driving through snow on the way there, too), I was totally exhausted by the time I got home. Nathan made a lovely meal of salmon, salad, and twice baked potatoes which was the perfect celebration.

Congratulations to everyone who toughed it out yesterday and thanks so much to all the dedicated volunteers who spent their Saturday in such nasty weather to make the event possible!

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Jan 2018 Training: Drinking the Koop Kool-aid

For Nathan's birthday last October, he knew to expect that one of his presents was Jason Koop's book, Training Essentials for Ultrarunning. He may not have expected that I would finish the book before he did. This left me in a dangerous situation: I was more excited about training for my next goal race (IMTUF 100) than racing the upcoming one. Fortunately, I pulled it together and had a great race at the Blood Rock 100.

It has been seven years since I truly felt well prepared for a race, with a several year struggle to pregnancy and clinical responsibilities both to blame. After Nathan and I exhausted our affordable options for becoming parents for the second time early in the year, I was ready to move forward and hopeful to break my streak of barely adequate ultramarathon training. I embarked on the FIRST program which I had successfully used for marathon training in college, hoping the high intensity, low mileage plan would fit into my schedule better. Within a week, I had pulled a hamstring. Fast running was not something I could jump back into. Ultimately, I made it to the race with preparation I knew could bring me to the finish line, but didn't permit any loftier goals.

Once I was confident I had fully recovered from my race, I did a couple weeks easy base mileage and then started training based on Koop's philosophies laid out in his book. He recommends starting by optimizing your VO2max with interval training, something I have been scared off since pulling my hamstring. The part I found unique was that he recommends uphill intervals, which means fewer injuries AND better climbing fitness. Work outs are time based, not distance based, but the sample schedule for the interval phase provided in his book was still a bit higher mileage than I was ready to start with, so I adjusted the times downward a bit, with one exception: I'm still planning to build long runs to prepare for the OPSF 50k at the end of March. Here's what my first 2 weeks of this training have looked like:

Yep, that's FIVE interval workouts in two weeks. The first one was a bit of a bust in which I overestimated by own abilities. But then mid last week when I tried the same workout at a more conservative pace, it felt so easy I actually switched treadmills to make sure the incline was functioning well on my machine. I'm amazed at how quickly I am reaping the benefits of the training (I guess I really needed it) and I'll try not to go crazy during the five day recovery period I have coming up next week.

Kool-aid ingested; bring on February!