St. Paul or Bust: The Surprisingly Weird Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

This marathon, you guys. I don’t know what to say about it. It has been a tough couple of weeks for me. And so . . . this is my blog, let’s talk about it.

Training

My training for this race was pretty consistent. I logged 208 miles in June, 221.5 miles in July, 253.8 miles in August, and 229.4 miles in September. My longest run was 23.5 miles, which was our running group’s trek out along the planet path from the Monona Terrace to Mount Horeb. That run happened August 29, and it was basically my last long run of the training session. I had an 18-mile run toward the beginning of August too, and a bunch of runs in the 15–16 mile range. There were some weekends where I meant to do 15/15 or 13/13 across Saturday/Sunday, and typically the second day’s run was not as long as planned. But then again, there were a lot of weeks where I took a random day off on a Tuesday or Wednesday to deal with aches and pains preemptively and then ran on Friday, so my legs typically weren’t as fresh going into the weekend as they might have been.

I also did some speedwork for this race. I did mostly 800s (working up to 10 x 800), 400s, or in the last two weeks, strides (15-second sprints with about 45–60 seconds of recovery). These were always as part of a run with warmup and cooldown on normal terrain, not on a track. My pace on these was usually around 8:00 min/mile plus or minus; in fact, the goal for each run was to do the intervals (not the strides) at 85% to 90% of max HR. I made this decision based on the strategies suggested by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Road Racing for Serious Runners. The book is more geared toward races up to the half marathon distance, but I do so little speedwork that it seemed like a good (and unintimidating) starting point. Eighty-five percent of max HR or 8:00 min/mi works out to be about a 5K race pace, which is slow enough that I’m not (or don’t seem to be) in danger of injuring myself doing it.

Finally, my running group was doing our long runs at close to race pace, often in the 8:50–9:20 min/mi range, which basically turned my long run into a long tempo run every week. This was quite helpful; I started out this training cycle just after the 50K feeling like a 9:20 was very fast, and finished able to do a half marathon distance run at an 8:48 min/mi pace, which required some pushing but felt generally comfortable. As a result, I decided my goal for the race—contingent on having a good taper—was going to be 3:55:xx.

Marathon Week

So on the 26th of September, I tested for 4th kyu in aikido. The last weeks prior to the test were for me filled with a lot of aikido classes, so I was feeling a bit bruised by the end of it and ready to taper. Then, on the 28th, Bryan had knee surgery.

The Knee Surgery Thing

Back in the spring, B had his knee scoped. I think the technical term is a knee arthroscopy. The idea was to get a good look at a small defect on the femoral articular cartilage that has prevented him from running for, at that point, a bit over a year. At the time, the ortho shaved down the edges of the defect, and B decided to see how it went. But after rehabbing it, he found that while he could do short sprints during a game of ultimate, he couldn’t really run farther than about a mile and a half with me (on grass-covered trails, specifically) without pain. And then a day came when he went to frisbee and ran too much and the pain didn’t stop for over a week. So he got put on the list for a cartilage transplant.

The thing about being on the list, besides the awesomeness of medical technology that this is an option and the creepiness of having someone else’s cells in your body, is that you don’t know when exactly they’re going to call and tell you it’s time to rock and roll. So B got the call two weeks before my marathon, and possibly because of the aikido test (plus a play we were going to that weekend), he scheduled the surgery they told him Monday the 28th was go day. I’m glad he was able to come to my test, which meant a lot to me, and able to enjoy the play, which would have been difficult if he’d had to try to manage APT on crutches. But it did leave us a rather slender window for him to recover enough for a four-hour car ride.

After the first surgery last spring, he was back on his feet almost right away. Not an exaggeration: We went out to dinner that evening, and I had to glare at him to get him to bring the crutches into the restaurant. The surgery itself was very non-invasive, and they encouraged him to get back to walking as soon as he could. The second surgery ended with a four or five inch incision down the front of his knee, and he’s now on crutches with orders not to put any weight on the affected limb for the first three weeks, with another three weeks of gradual buildup to follow. So not only was his mobility a good bit different, his pain levels were as well; after the first operation, I think he took a few Tylenol, whereas after the nerve block for this one wore off, he needed serious painkillers. And then he developed some other side effects that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that it was kind of an unpleasant week for him.

The thing about the running industry, such as it is and such as I interact with it, is that it is always telling people they have to make running a priority. Going out for a jog, being fit—if you want those things, you have to prioritize them. But the thing is, running is not really a priority for me in that sense. Running is a thing I do in order to stay sane and manage my stress levels, just like brushing my teeth is a thing I do because I have a horrible fear of my teeth falling out like in Tommyknockers to maintain dental hygiene. Race preparation, on the other hand, is something I have to prioritize or it doesn’t really happen.

Over the course of the week, watching B’s health/comfort levels wax and wane, it became clear to me that there was a serious question about whether or not he was going to be able to make the drive up. And I wasn’t ready to leave him to anyone else’s machinations; either we went together or I wasn’t going.[1] So it may be obvious here what I’m pointing at—my taper did not really happen, or not very well.

The Personal Becomes Political

Monday was also when the race organizers sent out an email informing us runners that a protest by the group Black Lives Matter was being planned to disrupt the race at mile 25. Apparently they (BLM) had first announced their plans on the 26th or so, but I wasn’t following the issue then.

At first, I was quite disappointed. After a really long, stressful summer, I had been really looking forward to going up to see my brother and his wife, hanging out, doing the race . . . it sort of belatedly dawned on me that this was a very privileged way to look at things—they’re ruining my relaxing vacation, my race, and so on, when what they’re asking for—justice for police brutality—is both an extremely reasonable thing to request and something that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to deal with. Which is to say, anyone in the BLM crowd would also like a relaxing vacation weekend, but they weren’t going to get it.

By, I guess, late Wednesday, I was reconciled to the fact that I would run twenty-five miles to where the protest was, symbolically turn off the course, and then jog back to my brother’s house about a block away. And then do, you know, another 1.2 miles on my own. But I wouldn’t be officially finishing. (I came to this decision in part because of discussions with a number of very smart friends and in part because I read some of the comments on the marathon’s Facebook page and realized which side of the issue I thought I wanted to be on. But also, to be honest, the whole thing also felt kind of secondary to the rest of the stuff that was going on in my life, like something I was watching from a distance.)

Thursday, the city of St. Paul and the marathon people announced that a deal had been struck and the race would not be obstructed. Instead, the protesters would be given 1) a meeting with the mayor, and 2) a place near the finish to hold their protest.

Kickoff

Pre-race

Pre-race selfie. It was cold. I was tired.

So, spoiler alert, B was able to make the drive up. Friday afternoon and all of Saturday were spent in Daniel and Claire’s most entertaining company, doing things like drinking Pimm’s and grapefruit soda, eating curry, and watching episodes of Sherlock. Then, Sunday morning, we got up early for the race.

Starting line crowd

The crowd at the starting line.

Well, the race was at 8:00; I got up at 5:00 because B got up at 5 to take some pain meds. So it goes. Daniel and Claire kindly dropped me off at a few blocks from the starting line around 7:40, just enough time for a quick warm up and a stop at the port-o-potty. Actually, the PoP I found was right where a bunch of the pros were lining up, so I got to pee within ten feet of the person who actually won the marathon.[2]

The beginning of the marathon was a bit of a problem. The race typically hosts about 8,500 people or so, and we were divided up into four corrals. However, as I jogged along the sidewalk, I could see pacer signs but no indication of where each corral started. I also noticed that the numbers of the runners in the corral I was passing (corral 1) were a different color than mine, which made me anxious that I’d accidentally stumbled into the 10-miler starting area instead.[3] Eventually I ducked in and a woman in a bright yellow vest told me to move back to the 2nd corral (where I was assigned to start).

20151004_084037

The palatial estates around Lake of the Isles.

I had jogged about 0.27 miles at this point. For some reason, I decided to just hit lap on my watch rather than clearing it. This had a few unintended consequences. First, during the first mile plus, there were a lot of tall buildings that messed up the distance tracking of my watch; since the time was also off, I couldn’t rely on that to estimate my pace. Second, I didn’t realize that the corrals were going to be released as waves, with several minutes between each. So not only was my watch off from the time on the mile marker clocks by an unknown amount, our wave time was also. Basically, I was pretty lost.

The route starts out downhill for the first mile, then turns up as you run past the Walker art museum (a beautiful building; I’d love to see the collection there sometime) at mile 2. The best sign spotted during this section said “Keep running! . . . Unless you’re Donald Trump!” Then it’s on to circle three lakes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet from around the 5K mark. This part of the race is great—the houses ringing each lake are easily some of the priciest properties in the city, and there was a good crowd out to watch and cheer us on, too (and all of their dogs).[4] I felt very strong and relaxed through this section, and I was making pretty good time, clocking low 9s and even some high 8s (8:58, 8:46, 8:48). I came through the 5K in 28:xx and the 10K in 56:xx. Around mile 8, we left the first three lakes and entered a long, fairly flat part that went beneath some underpasses and eventually left us near Lake Nokomis around mile 11. I had originally thought I was going to see Daniel and Claire during this part of the race, so I stayed occupied looking for them in the crowds. Later I found out that they missed me in several places by only a few minutes. Crumbs.

Lake of the Isles or Lake Calhoun

Panorama around Lake of the Isles (or possibly Lake Calhoun).

I came through the half marathon point in what I thought, after considerable mental calculation, was about 1:58:xx. I was still moving well, and I knew if I could do the second half in that amount of time, I would wind up very close to my goal. At this point, I decided that I was going to take it easy until I reached Summit Avenue, and then really hammer it home on the last 10K. Just really leave it out on the course.

running mi 22ish

Approaching mile 22 or so. Photo by Claire.

Of course, there were some complications. Aren’t there always? Somewhere around mile 17, my left knee began to ache. At first I thought it might be my IT band, since jogging with Daniel the day before he’d mentioned his own ITB issues. I slowed considerably because of the pain, and the four hour pace group was suddenly right behind me. I managed to gap them briefly, only to be caught when I stopped to stretch. I told myself I’d catch them back up, but I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. Of course, the problem wasn’t my ITB—it was my hip.[5] So there wasn’t really anything I could do. I tried to just relax and enjoy the day, since I quickly came to the realization that my goal time was not going to be met. At one point, I saw a lady with an orange tabby cat on a leash. The cat was lying in the grass, looking pretty chilled out, all things considered. I shouted at her, “That’s a funny-looking dog.” She seemed confused and shouted back, “Thanks?”

running mi 22

Around mile 22. Photo by Claire.

Around mile 19, there was a considerable hill near the University of St. Thomas that I’d forgotten about. At the top of it, a friend from my running group, Julie, was spectating, and she jogged about a block with me. That gave me a big boost. Then I finally got to turn onto Summit, which was kind of a bummer because the first two or three miles are one gradual hill. I don’t remember noticing it last time, but this time it was both obvious and hard. But I got to see Daniel and Claire in there (I think around mile 22), so that was another exciting boost.

Summit Avenue is another really nice section of town with really expensive old houses to gawk at. As I recall from 2008, the stretch between miles 23 and 24 was the longest ever. Although I kept hitting the lap button on my watch when I passed a mile marker, it was never registering a mile when I got to the next one, so everything seemed interminable. I was also having quite a bit of pain in both knees by this point. Then I got to see not just Daniel and Claire at mile 25, but B as well—he’d managed to crutch down to see me hobble by. What a rush!

mile 25 kiss

Mile 25 meeting. Photo by Claire.

I did reflect, as I left him, that if the protest had gone off as planned, I would be stopping at that point. And, to be honest, I would have been totally okay with stopping. But I was so close.

As I approached the finish line, I remembered the protest again. I had planned to symbolically raise my hands in the “hands up” gesture as I ran past them to express my solidarity for the protesters, since I thought from what I’d heard from the race that it was unlikely they were going to give runners the option to exit the course.[6] But I didn’t actually see the protest. I did see, off to the left behind a chain-link fence, a bunch of people holding signs, but they were mostly white, and also standing in a circle facing inward, so I couldn’t really read any of the signs to determine what group they represented. And I was actually in some not-inconsiderable pain and very focused on just getting through to the finish line, so I decided not to stay and look around and just kept going.

I finished in 4:03:36, about eight minutes off my goal time. The first time I ran the TCM, in 2008, I finished in 4:41:10, so I’ve made considerable improvements in the last seven years. I’m not quite where I want to be/think I should be, but I’m somewhere other than where I started. And that’s sort of the idea, I guess.

The Aftermath

As I mentioned, I crossed the finish line with pain in both knees. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage. With B’s help, the joint got shifted back to its proper position, and I am now again pain-free. I have already been out and run a few times this week, with no noticeable problems other than my quads being tired. I also felt pretty beat up generally at the finish; I think I have done so many trail races lately that I had kind of forgotten how running so far on concrete makes you feel like you’ve been beaten. My next two races are on a combination of cement and gravel, so we’ll see how that affects me.

Post-race selfie.

Slightly crazed post-race selfie.

I also finished with some pretty bad chafing on my back—it seems the belt I was carrying my phone in bounced around a lot, to the point where I had several kind of ugly, bloody scrapes on the small of my back. Those are still healing—yesterday at aikido, I noticed the top piece of my hakama occasionally digging into them when I fell. Ow.

Other than those, life has been pretty decent. And B’s recovery has been going pretty well.

When I told the story of this race to a friend, she asked why I didn’t just stop when things started to hurt. I don’t really have a good answer. I guess I just didn’t feel like anything was bad enough to warrant stopping, so I didn’t. What kind of what would warrant stopping? I don’t know the answer to that either. I do know that I have one more big race (ultra) and a half scheduled for this year, and possibly a 5K or 10K on Thanksgiving, and then I’m going to take it a little easy for a while. Easy meaning nothing longer than a half, maybe doing some weird trail race distances that are, you know, 15K or whatever. Maybe doing some more swimming. I feel like I say that a lot after marathons. I guess time will tell if I actually mean it.


[1] Not to sound too noble. I was going to run 26.2 miles on Sunday regardless of where I was, but if I was at home, I was planning to do 5 x 5 mile loops with a break for an ice cream sandwich after each.
[2] Okay, that was one of the weirder sentences I’ve written.
[3] I found out later that the 10-mile race had already been won by the time we set out. The winner finished in about 56:xx. Holy cow.
[4] Best dog: a husky who, when he heard the crowd shout “Woo!,” started howling. Also spotted a small bear-like beasty (possibly a chow puppy) being held and bounced like a baby by its owner.
[5] My SI joint slips, and then one of my legs becomes longer than the other, putting pressure on my knees. I’ve started doing more plank/dead bugs/half bridges to try to prevent it, but it still happens.
[6] So for liability reasons, races don’t want you leaving the course without telling anyone. There have been cases of runners getting eaten by bears and so forth—of course, an unlikely outcome in a big city marathon, but still.

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Doing Something Stupid at the Kettle Morraine 100

My training cycle for this race was an exercise in restraint. Or laziness. I ran 20 miles only once, and did only a few runs in the 16–18 mile range. Instead, I focused on keeping my overall volume high (about 50 mi/week, with my peak weeks hitting 60+) and doing longer runs on both Saturday and Sunday, trying to get 25–30 miles across two days. Since the KM 100 is a trail race, I also tried to get out and do trails at least once per week if not more frequently, and I did my hill work on trails at a park near my house. It was kind of an experiment—in the past, I’ve experienced injury when running a lot of runs over 18–20 miles, so I wondered if there were a way to avoid that. If only there were a way to do such an experiment without, you know, actually putting down all the money for the entry fee and training for and running the race. But at least my point has now been empirically proven. Sort of, anyway.

I should note that I did a two-week taper for this race. I usually hate tapering, and this time was no different. Somewhat amusingly, I decided to use my extra time from running less to go to aikido three times in the week before the race. By Friday night I was wondering why I was so sore. Oops.

Fruitless Pre-Race Nattering

Okay, so the morning of the race, I got up late and kind of hung around, reading and having a cup of coffee. The race actually started at 14:00, but I had to arrive at the Nordic parking lot (the finish line) by 12:15 in order to get a bus to the start. I had toast with butter, peanut butter, and a banana a bit late in the morning, then dithered around for a while before finally leaving a bit before 11. When I arrived in La Grange, one of the two race directors recognized me, which was really nice. Seriously, if you ever want to flatter/impress someone who is face-blind (and while I’m not as bad as some, I’m pretty bad), just recognize them.

From the bus ride into the Scuppernong trail head.

From the bus ride into the Scuppernong trail head.

The bus to the start was a good chance to rediscover how school buses have no shocks. I sat quietly, listening to the guy next to me talk about how he treated his plantar fasciitis, his knee issues, how he had never run farther than a marathon but was expecting to finish the 50K in time to run the 38-mile fun run or at least pace a friend doing the 100 miler. He had brought with him, among other things, salt caps filled with Himalayan sea salt, pills filled with hydrolized collagen[1], pickles, smoothies, and venison sausage. I had brought: five salt tabs in a small plastic baggie and a Clif bar (as well as some sunscreen and bugspray I wasn’t bringing on the run).

The starting line was at the 31.6 mile aid station, which marked the turn-around/halfway point for the 100K runners and the almost one-third of the distance complete point for the 100-mile runners. We were starting eight hours after they were, and a lot of the middle-of-the-packers were trickling in. Actually, it looks like most of the people who finished the 100K finished in 13–15 hours, so these would have been the back-pack 100K people and the mid-pack for the 100 miler. I was both nervous about the race and kind of unsure of how to time my pre-race eating for such a late start. I had brought a bag with sunscreen, bug spray, body glide, and other similar sundries with me to the starting line; I put my race shirt in and tied the top. I was told that it would be treated as a drop bag and taken to the Emma Carlin aid station (at mile 15.9) and then to the finish line provided that I remembered to move it to the “done” pile at Emma Carlin. Okay, well. Mental note.

Cooling my heels before the race. I think my phone did something funny to this picture--my arms aren't that skinny.

Cooling my heels before the race. I think my phone did something funny to this picture–my arms aren’t that skinny.

After all the sunscreening and bugspraying was taken care of, I still had an hour to wait, so I ate my Clif bar and read a short story by Salman Rushdie that was in last week’s New Yorker. Highly recommend it.

Clif bar and Salman Rushdie.

Clif bar and Salman Rushdie.

Shortly before we took off, the aid station played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which was pretty awesome.

The First Half

At 2pm (plus a few seconds) we took off. I had discovered a few minutes before the start that my watch was claiming it was low on batteries (despite being charged for a full 24 hours before the start!). I decided to use the stopwatch setting on my cell phone to time my progress between aid stations. This meant that while I had a general idea of my pace, I didn’t really know from moment to moment how fast I was running or how far I had gone, which is an interesting position to be in when you’re running 31 miles. Probably as a result, I took off going quite fast. After a while I fell into step with a woman from northern Illinois named Shelly, who was using the race as her last long run before Western States in three weeks. Wow! She was really moving, and pulled me along and provided awesome conversation for almost the first 20K. We hit the first aid station (mile 5) after 48 minutes, a 9:41 pace (it felt much faster than that). I was pretty aware that I was paying a lot up front that I might not be happy about later, but I really wanted company, so I pushed. It was probably a good idea, because after some rolling hills, the race headed out over some meadows, which were 1) grassy 2) beautiful 3) humid 4) unshaded and hot. Getting through those as quickly as we did (I lost Shelly right toward the end, before the Antique Lane aid station, which was mile 12ish) probably helped me a lot in the long run; left alone, the monotony and heat would probably have reduced me to a walk.

The meadows. Pretty to look at.

The meadows. Pretty to look at.

Antique Lane was an unmanned aid station, meaning there was just water jugs and some other necessities, like ice and a big tub of Vaseline I used on some chafing spots. It was only three miles from Antique Lane to Emma Carlin, but it felt like more, especially because I was beginning to develop some hot spots on my feet.

Kismet!

There were a ton of people at Emma Carlin—it was a big trail head with good access roads, so there was a little party going on. I ate some (M&Ms and boiled potatoes dipped in salt, I think) and found my drop bag. Originally I’d been just intending to move it to the “done” pile so it would get back to Nordic in time for me to leave, but I remembered I had body glide in it and put some on my feet. Amazing. I didn’t have problems with them the rest of the race, and when I got home and took off my shoes and socks, I found only one blister.

I spent a good nine minutes at Emma (I got there at 16:46, left at 16:55 or so), just trying to get as situated as possible. Up until this point, in an attempt to control my body temperature I’d been putting ice down my sports bra, and here I rolled some up in a wet bandana and tied it around my neck too. On the whole, ice down the bra cools one much faster, but it also melts faster. Ice in the banana lasts a surprisingly long time.[2]

The Second Half

After Emma Carlin, some single track.

After Emma Carlin, some single track.

Between Emma Carlin and the finish line, there were three aid stations: Horseriders, Bluff, and Tamarack, with legs of 3.1 miles, 5 miles, and 2.7 miles. The section between Emma Carlin and Horseriders was not too difficult to run; it was nice to be out of the meadows and on to some shaded single track. I have actually started to quite enjoy running morraines, which are both pretty and runnable if you’re in pretty good hill condition. The sun was starting to sink here, so I wound up taking off my sunglasses and stowing them. I knew that there were three women ahead of me, and I hadn’t seen anyone in a while coming up behind me—and also, on such a hot, humid day, you don’t make a move at mile 18. Thus it was with some shock that when I stopped to take off my shoe and clear some brush out of it, a woman in a pink shirt doing the 50K passed me by. No fair!

I put my shoe back on and sped after her. It didn’t take long before I caught and passed her.[3] Then I had to put a gap in between us to prevent her passing me back, so I started to run up the smaller hills and run/walk the bigger ones. Every few minutes, I’d hear something and think it was footsteps, or look behind me and think I saw pink, but after a while I decided I was hearing/seeing things. At any rate, you can’t run at mile 18 like you’re sprinting for the finish, so eventually I reconciled myself to possibly getting passed by her. I passed some people in here (mostly 100K runners), and made it to Horseriders 48 minutes later. I had been running for 3:34, making it just after 5:30pm.

The Tough Bit

I knew that the section between Horseriders and Bluff was going to be the hardest of the race. I have run it before as part of the Ice Age 50K, and it involves some stuff that is technical (i.e., roots and rocks you have to watch out for), some stuff that is sandy and unpleasant to run in, and a long hike up Star Mountain (also called Bald Bluff), which has somewhat old, rocky, difficult to descend stairs on the other side of it. Initially I figured I was just going to take my time with this section and that the 5.2 miles would take me an hour. Although the technical sections were not as bad as I’d thought they were the first time I ran this section during my first trail 50K (I have learned something about trail running!), it was still pretty slow going in parts. A guy in a yellow shirt cheered me on briefly as he passed me. Actually, I leapfrogged with Mr. Yellow several times during the second half of the race; other than him, no one passed me after I left behind the lady in pink. And he somehow passed me three or four times.

Sandy horse path from between Horseriders and Bluff. Not good running.

Sandy horse path from between Horseriders and Bluff. Not good running.

It took me 1:10 to get from Horseriders to Bluff, and I was so stunned and excited to be there. I came around a corner to be greeted by a pink lawn flamingo, and then walked into a party. The song “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage was playing when I came in, which seems entirely appropriate for an ultramarathon. Before I left, the song “Sister Golden Hair” by America came on, which would stay in my head for most of the rest of the race. I got yelled at for grabbing the ice here (“We’re trying to keep it clean!” the lady said). Maybe she was actually speaking quite reasonably, but I felt like that time in the second grade when I tried to touch a sculpture at the Art Institute and got caught by a docent. Yikes.
Bluff was actually a pretty intense aid station to be at because there were a bunch of 100-mile and 100K runners trying to collect themselves. The 100K people had as far as I did left, while the 100 mile people had nearly 50 miles to go. While I thought I was suffering here—my hip flexors were sore, my core had gone entirely to hell, my back hurt, and my quads were just done—seeing them reminded me that while my suffering might feel like a lot in subjective terms, it was probably objectively not that bad, comparatively speaking. I don’t know, maybe most people don’t find it necessary to remind themselves in the middle of a race that they’re not doing that much, but it kind of put things in perspective. Anyway, I should note that in a race like this, where I was pretty tired and out of it, having actual people and music and so on at an aid station made a big difference in psychological terms. If you ever decide to volunteer at an aid station for an ultra, know that you can really make a big difference in psychological terms to the runners. (This is probably true for long-distance tris too, like the half or full IM.)

The top of the hill just before Bluff.

The top of the hill just before Bluff.

The Last Bit

The Nordic trail--a big difference from the Ice Age stuff.

The Nordic trail–a big difference from the Ice Age stuff.

Bluff was mile 24, meaning I had about 7.6 miles to go. The first leg, Bluff to Tamarak, was 2.5 miles. Here we finally got off the Ice Age Trail and onto the wide, piney trails of the Nordic Trail, basically the same area I ran in a month ago when I did the Ice Age Trail half marathon. But nothing looked too familiar, either because it was starting to get dark or because we were running it backwards from the direction I did at Ice Age. Or we were on different trails, I don’t know. At this point, I was focused entirely on just running the distance to the next aid station. I pushed up a lot of the hills, passed some more runners doing the longer races, and eventually made it to Tamarak in 34:08, or at 7:21pm. I had originally hoped to be finishing the race at 7:30pm (and Shelly, my companion from earlier, actually did!). Oh well. I was still pretty confident that as long as I held my place, I was going to finish in the top 10 (my overall goal). I also really wanted to finish before 20:30, because that was when the sun set, and I didn’t have a lamp except the flashlight on my phone.

I was a bit dismayed to see at Tamarak that I still had 5 miles to go. My grasp on time and distance were pretty ephemeral here, even though I was sort of ostensibly tracking both. A mile outside the aid station, I passed a number “4” written in marker on a little ground sign. Four miles to go? I was excited. I started to run faster. (Or, really, “faster.”) This section had a good number of rolling hills that I had to walk all or parts of, but I still made good time. I had reached a point where stopping running and then starting again was much more painful than just running straight through, so that is what I did.

Coming into Tamarak. You can see it was starting to get to be twilight.

Coming into Tamarak. You can see it was starting to get to be twilight, so the exposure was blurry.

The signs seemed way farther apart than I thought they should be, so I tried to forget about distance and just focus on how pleasant it was to be running in a pine forest in the gathering twilight. The temperature was finally dropping, and I didn’t feel terrible except for the pain. I crossed the finish line to a gigantic cheer at 8:17pm, after 6:17:03 of running, and shook hands with the RD.

Somewhat amusingly, I stopped just past the finish line to stop my phone timer and try to take a screenshot, and while I was standing there, the woman who tracks results came over and said, “Emily, you were the first woman in the Masters division” (masters: ages 40–49). I was baffled, because I’m not 40, and told her so. Then I looked at the plaque she was holding out. “That says ‘open division’ ” (open: 39 and under). After some confusion, she confirmed that I had actually won the Womens Open division. This was a shock—remember I knew that there were at least three women ahead of me, so I figured at least one of them was young. As it turns out, there were actually four women ahead of me. One of them won the race overall (her name was also Emily![4]), and she was slightly younger than I am. The other three women were all Masters. Races typically don’t double up on prizes (you win either overall OR your age group, not both), so I got the Open award. Nice!

I won.

I won.

Aftermath

At the point I crossed the finish line, the drop bags had not yet returned from Emma Carlin. I wandered around a bit, felt dizzy, had a cup of Coke, and then realized I was freezing (all the ice down my bra all day had left everything I was wearing wet, and when I get done running my body abruptly stops generating heat). Luckily, I had my warmups in the car, so I changed and went back to the Nordic aid station for a cup of coffee with hot cocoa mix in it. There were at this point a lot of 50K finishers (as well as some 100K folks and a really chipper guy who had dropped from the 100 mile after 100K) who were all milling around, looking for their drop bags. The aid station actually closed at 8:40pm (so about 20 min after I finished), and a truck with the various supplies came back around 9pm—but no drop bags! Rather than hang around complaining, I got up and asked him if I could help unload the truck. Movement helped the shivering die down.

The finish area after dark.

The finish area after dark.

Finally, around 9:30pm, the drop bags arrived, so I helped unload those too, then headed out around 9:45pm. Yikes, what a long day. I called B to say hello, and he was a little worried that I would run into trouble driving when I was so tired, but I had The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett by the Eels to blare as I went. And the dogs were happy to see me when I got here. The cat also wanted to be fed.

This is already way too long, but to summarize, a few notes:

  1. Moving steadily in the later stages of an ultra is important. Even slow jogging is superior to hiking it in.
  2. You are passing a lot of people who may be having a rough time, so try to be happy and cheerful—tell them they’re doing a good job and looking good, even if they’re not. Also, be nice to the volunteers. They’re so important.
  3. Helping is better than sitting around when you’re freezing your arse off, even if you’re sore. I would not have thought to jump in and help if I hadn’t spent some time volunteering at races earlier this spring, but I’m glad I did.
  4. Gear: I had a 1-liter hydration pack, which proved to be a good size, and there were enough pockets to carry everything I needed to carry. I eventually got really sick of water though. I didn’t carry any food and probably didn’t eat enough.
  5. Food: This is what I ate: one-half a Hoho, some potato chips, one-quarter of a pbj, a handful of M&Ms, two or three boiled potatoes dipped in salt, possibly a piece of peanut butter cookie (I remember looking at them but not eating any), a cup of Coke, a small piece of watermelon. I think that’s it. Rather unusually, I drank a ton of water (probably three liters). In retrospect, I wish I would have started drinking calories as fluid earlier, because I wasn’t really hungry and I would have gotten some more in. (Post-race, despite how sick of fluids I was: a cup of Coke, a cup of coffee with cocoa mix, another cocoa from a gas station.)
  6. Clothes: I had only a little chafing and didn’t feel too warm. Didn’t get sunburned either. Probably would have chosen a different pair of socks in retrospect, but I survived fine, no big foot damage.
  7. I need to plank more. My core was a mess after 24 miles.
Post-race (pre-shower) selfie.

Post-race (pre-shower) selfie. I’m exhausted.


[1] He claimed that his chiropractor, who was also into ultrarunning, had recommended the collagen pills and that he take a bunch hourly during the race (he had settled on two per hour, which he said was a lower number). I didn’t lean over and tell him what I thought of the whole idea, which smacks of pseudoscience, but I’m hoping he learned something about that during the race. Hydrolyzed collagen, also known as “gelatine,” is the “active ingredient” in marshmallows.

[2] The downside is that it’s hard to gauge one’s perspiration level with all the ice melting all over. I was taking one salt cap per hour, and eating some salty things in each aid station, and that seemed to be enough. Although I had a headache when I finished, it was from caffeine withdrawal, not hyponatremia, despite having drunk probably three liters of fluid over the course of the race.

[3] I am almost totally sure this incident occurred between Emma Carlin and Horseriders rather than Horseriders and Bluff, just because the terrain of the second leg is so much harder to run. But I want to admit, in the spirit of transparency, that I was in a little zone and don’t quite remember.

[4] A total of three Emilys finished the 50K. Only one of the three of us was young enough to have been named during the whopping fifteen years (1993 to 2008) that the name spent on the “Top Five American Names for Girls” list. Actually, my suspicion is the woman in pink who nearly passed me was also named Emily. Or at least, the next woman to finish was also an Emily and was about 45 minutes behind me. Late edit: The next woman to finish was not the woman in pink–I couldn’t find her when looking through the race photos. She may have dropped; although 96 people signed up, it looks like only 76 finished. Or I suppose I could have hallucinated her.

Ice Age 50 half marathon, take three

One of my favorite spots on the trail.

One of my favorite spots on the trail.

This was my third time running the half marathon here. My times have been very closely clustered:

  • 2012: 2:00:59, 2nd in AG
  • 2014: 1:56:50, 5th in AG
  • 2015: 2:03:51, 10th in AG

Some race is always going to be your personal worst time. That’s just how it works. Interestingly, while I haven’t always gotten slower, I’ve consistently placed lower in my AG. Also, my AG has changed; I do get the feeling that for the half marathon distance, the women’s 30–34 age group is more competitive than the 25–29.

I feel like I’ve recapped this race before (here; looks like B was with me that year—the photos suggest I didn’t have a GPS watch yet, and I had a lot less definition in my shoulders…). Anyway, to avoid boring you, I’ll just hit the highlights this time:

  1. The first loop, I thought most of the hills were not as gnarly as in previous years. Also, unlike 2014, my legs weren’t trashed when I finished the first loop. Perhaps I am becoming a stronger hill runner?
  2. Unfortunately, I did notice I was pretty tired on the second loop (I stopped picking up my feet as well and stumbled a few times, almost falling). And the hills were a lot more pronounced.
  3. I felt like I pushed myself all the way through. This and last week’s race confirm that I’m probably in about 4:10 marathon shape.
  4. After a while, I fell behind all the fast people and was ahead of the slow people, and I found it quite hard to maintain my pace/focus. I knew I wouldn’t win, and I didn’t really want to go into the “pain cave.”
  5. Toward the end of the race, I passed a woman with some Thai tattooed on the backs of her arms. Ungrammatically, I shouted “คนพูดภาษาไทบได้” at her as I came up behind her. She was startled, and responded, “I have eighteen miles to go” (she was in the 50K) before realizing what I’d actually said. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to talk to her.
  6. My bad ankle hurt almost all the way through, which is weird because it didn’t hurt Thursday or Friday before the race and it doesn’t hurt now today (Sunday). Just one of those annoying things, I guess.
  7. I finished 10th in my age group. I’d been hoping I could still pull off a top-10 AG finish, so I guess that’s okay. Disappointed I couldn’t go sub-2, but it wasn’t my day. The weather was cool enough, but very humid. I miss being fast enough to pull off a sub-1:50 half marathon. I wonder if there’s a way to get back there without injuring myself doing speedwork.
  8. Probably not.
Grassy meadows, rather unpleasant when it's sunny.

Grassy meadows, rather unpleasant when it’s sunny.

Red trail, green grass.

Red trail, green grass.

As a warm-up for my 50K that is coming up in . . . four now three weeks and is also held on these very trails, it was reasonably good. I brought my hydration pack along and wore the clothes I thought I would wear for the upcoming race (about halfway through the race, the shorts, which are new, started to chafe, so those are off the menu. Good thing I tried them out.).

  • How annoyed were you with your performance, on a scale of 0–10 with 0 being totally fine and 10 being pretty hacked off? 2.
  • What mid-90s song was stuck in your head almost the entire run? “Gangsta’s Paradise,” by Coolio.
  • Last year, you got disoriented leaving the park, drove to Fort Atkinson, then later started to crash and had to stop at a random gas station outside of Edgerton and buy chocolate milk and potato chips in order to make it home. Did you experience those problems this time? Nope. I had a mini-sized energy bar before/during the race (pro tip: not a great choice of snack if your nose is stuffed up while running, like mine was). After the race, I grabbed a salt cap and some pieces of fruit before I headed out. When I got home, I had some peanut noodles, then later went out for (veggie) sushi with my family.
  • Did you accomplish anything after the race? I slept on the sofa for 90 minutes.
Post-run selfie (post-runfie?).

Post-run selfie (post-runfie?).

Next week, I am co-pacing the 2:30 group at the Madison half marathon, something I’ve never done before. (I’ve never even made it all the way through a race with a pace group, so it should be an interesting time.) I’ll be hanging out at the expo on Saturday around noon, so come say hello if you see me, or catch me at the starting line. Unless you’re going to be weird and awkward and make both of us feel uncomfortable, in which case feel free to continue stalking me quietly from a distance.

Also, speaking of quietly stalking me, if you missed it (and I don’t know why you would have seen this, since I didn’t announce it or anything), I’ve blogged a bit about ultrarunning over at Technically Running. It’s at least slightly humorous and has a picture of a skull I found attached to it for some reason.

LMR 20K: Fifth Time’s the…Something

TL;DR:Good 8K, slightly painful 8K, rough final 4K.

I’ve run the Lake Monona 20K (LMR) almost every year since 2009. Along the way I’ve watched it change from a fairly small race to a large one, with all the attendant problems that change could be expected to produce.

For fun, here are my results:

Year Time Pace
2009 1:53:39 9:09
2010 1:41:24 8:10
2011
2012
2013 1:56:41 9:23
2014 1:45:53 8:31
2015 1:50:45 8:53

Holy cow, I was fast in 2010! I ran my half marathon PR that year too, apparently—1:46:02 at the Madison Mini-Marathon. (I have just discovered that there’s a website, Athlinks, which I am probably the last person to find and which displays all my race results ever going back to my first-ever 5K in 2005 in which I finished in 38:05. Holy shit.) So this year was either my third fastest or third slowest, depending on how you look at it.

Okay, where was I? So this race always takes place the first weekend in May, and that means you never know what you’re going to get in terms of weather. Some years it has been quite warm, some years it has been cool and pleasant. This year it was warm.

The course is a nice one; it begins at the Monona Public Library, runs through some hills in the first 5K, has about 10K through downtown Madison/the Near East Side that’s quite flat, and then a few more hills as you come back into Monona. Most of my running group is getting ready to run a 4-hr (ish) marathon at Green Bay in two weeks, so the training pace was set for 8:59 min/mi. Well, good luck. The race now has 1,225 runners, which makes the start quite congested. After shuffling forward for (what felt like) a couple of minutes after the gun (in reality maybe 90 seconds), we crossed the timing mat and took off at an easy jog. At one point, hitting about 9:30, I joked to my friends, “This is the training pace, right?”

One of the better photos from the race.

One of the better photos from the race.

There was a lot of weaving and throwing of elbows through the first two miles. Eventually we managed to find enough open space to really get up to race pace, and to make up time we wound up running a little faster than 8:59 (miles 4–7 were 8:4x, so were 9 and 10). Ironically, the people I was running most with are not doing Green Bay, and neither am I. What the heck. We came through the 10K in about 55:08, which is fine, and hit the 15K in 1:22:25. Then a combination of heat, lack of water, and fatigue started dragging me back, and I slowed to a 9:xx pace. But at that point,we were almost to the finish, so it almost didn’t matter. With about two miles left, we met a guy named Jud from SLC who was having a pretty hard time of it. He was fun to chat with for a little while before he slowed down to walk, and my friend and I kicked it in to the finish.

At this point, I made a critical mistake, which was chugging three quarters of the bottle of water I got handed and then eating a granola bar and half an apple. The sudden entry of food and lots of water into my stomach when I had been moving so hard in the heat undid me. I had to sit down for a few minutes because I felt woozy, and then I slowly shlepped the half mile back to my car to drive home, grimacing from some unpleasant stomach cramps. When I got home, I had a shower and a nap, and then I took a salt tablet with my lunch, which made a pretty big difference in how I was feeling. So, pro tip: if you run really hard, don’t eat directly after you stop running. Give it a moment. Add fluids gradually. You will feel much better. Also, if you’re on a course with infrequent water stops and it’s the warmest day of the year so far, bring both salt tabs and your hydration system. I neglected to bring both, and regretted it.

Em oi! #402: Why-fi

em_402

This made more sense about three weeks ago when I had a dream about Doctor Who and woke up wanting to draw Matt Smith’s face. He has such a weird face, don’t you think?

matt smith
I was going to write more about Doctor Who, but I don’t really have that much more to say. I used to watch it and talk about it with my dad. Now I can’t. Sometime I’ll go back to watching it though. I miss it. Also there is a lot more to say about the specters of British Imperialism and White Man’s Burden and the question of sexuality and modern life that the show raises, but I don’t really have time/energy to subject it to that kind of critique. Please feel free to click here to visit the Postmodernism Generator and come up with your own critique.

Anyway, I have still been really busy with work, which is why it took me three weeks to draw/ink this damn thing. I have a work cycle that goes like this:

  1. “I’m bored. I’m depressed. I need more work.”
  2. Get some work. Hey, this is exciting.
  3. Wow, this is a lot of work. I am tired and kind of burned out. I wish this project would finish.
  4. Gee, I’m bored. (Return to step 1).

Right now I’m in step 3, and have been pretty much since I sketched this comic on the 24th. That’s why I haven’t had much time to write about the Tyranena Beer Run half marathon, which I did on November 11th. So if you’ll sit back, I’ll give you a very brief sketch of what happened.

  • Weather: It was cold. At first it was sunny, and I unfortunately left my sunglasses in the car. Then it got cloudy again, because this is Wisconsin and we wouldn’t want you to have enough sunlight to feel happy or anything.
  • Traffic: I picked up my friend Kristi and we drove to Lake Mills together. The Beltline was bumper to bumper for several miles (and maybe 30 minutes) because…a crew was painting stripes on the road? On a Saturday morning? For real? But although we were slightly late and the pre-race email said packet pickup ends at 11, they still gave us our packets at 11:05 or something. Very nice.
  • Everyone lined up and we took off. The picture below shows a map, but basically we ran around the lake. The first half (mostly roads) had a few good hills; the second half (mostly trails in the limestone sense, not single-track) was flat and had the kind of scenery describable as scenic. Had the race been held two or three weeks earlier, the leaves would have been amazing.tyranena
  • After the race, there was much food. I had a root beer, which was reasonably good; I heard the beer-beer was great, but I had to drive back to Madison to finish making challah for a relative’s 50th birthday party.
  • I ran in all of my layers because it was cold, and so I froze and shivershivershivered after the race for 45 minutes while I chatted with folks. I also just got a new coffee maker and have consequently been hitting the sauce pretty hard during the week, and by the time I got home I had six kinds of caffeine withdrawal headache going on. Super not awesome.
  • Speaking of chatting, everyone goes to this race. I saw a ton of Madisonians, and also got to meet up with Sheila, aka Crackhead, whose excellent triathlon blog I have been following for lo these many years. Or a while, at least. She was super fun and exciting to talk to. It’s nice to not be the craziest person in the room. “Oh, you haven’t done a 50-miler yet?” is not a typical reaction to my running CV. Also, check it out, I made her race report!
  • Finally, the race. I took off at the gun, and later met up with Kristi a little after mile 2. We ran the rest together, clocking a lot of sub-9 miles. We kept saying, “We should slow down!” but then we didn’t. It was windy, but at least part of the time we got a tail wind (not at the end, though. Ugh.). I finished in 1:53:13, my fastest half this year. (My other half was a trail race, so it’s not that shocking. But still, my goal was to go under 2 hours, so 1:53 is great!)
20141108_133416-SMILE

Kristi and me, post-race.

20141108_140549

Sheila and me.

My next race is the Berbee Derby, also known as the local turkey trot. And after that, I’m not racing again until 2015! Yikes. It’s starting to be time to think about what I would like to sign up for next year, and to be honest I’m not sure. I have a sort of half-serious goal of trying to figure out how to run a marathon without running over 18 miles in practice, but beyond that…don’t get injured is pretty much my only major rule at the moment.

Okay, wrap it up. Let’s file this comic under PN1992.8 S35 L86 2014, for Drama–Broadcasting–Television broadcasts–Special topics–Other special topics, A-Z–Science fiction. It may or may not surprise you to know that the LCC doesn’t have a subject heading for hipsters. Apparently they are insufficiently documented.

Antelope Island 50K

The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC

The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC

Ok, now that I’m back in Madison and have slept some (a lot), let me see if I can talk about the Antelope Island 50K in a brief yet entertaining manner.antelope island

First things first: Where is Antelope Island? It’s the largest island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, so specifically it is about 46 miles from my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in Salt Lake City. When B and I decided to go out to Utah for a fall visit, I noticed that this race happened to be right around the time we were going out and arranged our travel schedule to coincide. So I didn’t OFFICIALLY travel out there for the race, I just happened to be in the area and the race was happening. (I have a personal rule that I don’t travel more than an hour from home for a race unless it’s a super awesome race.)

We flew in Tuesday afternoon. I had originally planned to run Tuesday and Thursday this past week as the last bit of my taper, but then I was up in the night Monday night/Tuesday morning with. . . something. Was it food poisoning? A norovirus? Only her intestines know for sure. At any rate, things sure weren’t 100 percent when I got up Tuesday morning and I didn’t go for a run, and I even told B that if I still felt super crappy come Saturday I was going to cancel the race. My conditioned waxed and waned throughout the day (including a long stopover at O’Hare), and by the time we arrived I had a pretty intense migraine (complete with nausea, light sensitivity, and blurry vision). Bodes ill. But Wednesday morning when I got up I was fine. In fact I felt so much better than I had in twenty-four hours that I was positively jubilant. Daniel and I went for a run around SLC’s Liberty Park in the afternoon, and I felt pretty good. My foot gave me some trouble on the last part of the run, especially going up the hill from State to A on 1st Street, but the view is so rewarding I couldn’t complain. Then I had two full days of rest, which I knew would make both my foot and my PT happy.

Pre-Race Selfie

Pre-Race Selfie

Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:50, a full forty minutes before Daniel and Claire were coming to pick me up, so that I could eat and also reconsider my life choices. I was suddenly very nervous, in a way that I seldom am before races anymore. I felt a little crappy (too much wine the night before? Too little water?), I was nervous about the course and elevation, and I just kept thinking I should call Daniel and tell him not to come and crawl back into bed with B. I could go for a run later, maybe even go up to Sugar House Park and do twenty miles, and. . . but I didn’t follow through on any of this. I kissed B goodbye and went down and got in the car.

By the time we got to Antelope Island I was feeling better, physically anyway. When I got out of the car to check in, I heard gunshots in the distance. The women working assured me that it was just hunting and “not on the island, we hope.” They also said, “Don’t bother the buffalo and they won’t bother you.” Ok, good to know.[1]

Sunrise

Sunrise

My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire

My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire

Daniel and Claire dropped me off at the starting line just as the sun was beginning to climb over the mountains and paint the sky pink. It was beautiful—and cold. I told them to come back in not less than five and a half hours and thanked them again for their tolerance of my weird hobby. Then I had to take off my sweatshirt and go wait around for the race to get started. The RD announced a last-minute course change owing to mud that took the course from 31 miles down to about 30. I stood in line to use the port-o-potty behind a guy who had his arm in a really complicated sling owing to some sort of surgery (he was still running, which made me feel possibly a bit better). Then a few minutes later, we were off.

The First Climb

The First Climb

Starting Line to the First Aid Station (Mile 5.8)

The race started with about half a mile or so of flat on a gravel access road of some sort. We went along a fence until we came to a break and turned onto a dirt trail that took us in slow switchbacks up the foothills of the mountain (I think the main mountain is Frary Peak, but I’m not totally sure that was the one we were running around, so you’ll have to just guess at the geography). We were at times running east, into the sunrise, which was very pretty but made it hard to see the trail. Luckily, the trail here wasn’t very technical, with only occasional rocks to dodge. There were a lot of false summits—I would look up the trail, thinking that just beyond the coming ridge things must flatten or even descend—only to find when I arrived that the trail continued up. Luckily the hill was quite gentle, so the continuous trekking didn’t bother me and I kept up a pretty steady pace between 10:30-12:00 min/mi. After mile three, the trail turned downward (and west) and suddenly I was skimming along, taking in all these breathtaking vistas I hadn’t had a chance to look at before. Oh, wait, the breathtaking part—that was the altitude. And sure enough, after two miles of lovely downhill, the path turned sharply upward and we hiked it in to the first aid station. I arrived right around the one hour mark.

I wasn’t too concerned about calories so early in the race, but I knew I couldn’t fall behind, especially with the comparatively long distances between aid stations (most were five to six miles apart). I think I had a Fig Newton and a couple of potato chips. Then I was off again. I actually made it through a bit faster than several women, some of whom I would leapfrog with for much of the rest of the race.

Mountains at the Beginning of the Course

Mountains at the Beginning of the Course

Mile 5.8 to the Second Aid Station (Mile 14)

elevation

Elevation Profile. Click to Embiggen.

As I left the first aid station, the staff said that there was a nice bit of downhill ahead, “About a mile of downhill.” And it was very nice, good enough to hit a 9:40 split. I started thinking about how fast I was going to finish—maybe I would hit a 5:15:xx and be lounging around when everyone came to get me. Then suddenly, in one of those weird moments you seem to encounter in the mountains where the ground tells you something your eyes/inner ear don’t necessarily get, I went around a corner and the trail turned sharply upward. The rest of this section was largely not nice; it included steep climbs (about 1,700 feet over seven miles, with over 600 feet of that in the last mile alone); downhills too rocky to run; sections of trail ankle-deep in sand or shifting, golf ball-sized gravel; sections covered with rocks the size of bricks I was not nimble enough to bound between; and of course absolutely no shade. I began to run low on water and at times felt a bit dizzy, but there was really nothing to do but keep going to get to the next aid station. Luckily, I was able to sort of tuck into my brain (I thought about a lot of rather silly things, like the book I have been editing) and keep going. Each time my watch buzzed, I felt a bit surprised that another mile had passed. My splits during this section ranged from 9:21 (the downhill) to 22:42 (the last 600 feet of climb and a stop at the aid station to pull a rock out of my shoe).

It was very nice to get to the aid station and eat some potato chips and potato dipped in salt and refill my water. I also got to blow my nose, which was nice. My nose always runs when I’m out, er, running, and I’d neglected to bring any tissues.

Mile 14 to the Third Aid Station (Mile 20ish)

At the mile 14 aid station, I heard one of the guys say that the next aid station was five miles away. I was excited to leave—both because I had told B I would try to text him around mile 15,[2] and because mile 19 seemed very achievable and also very close to the finish (at the time I thought it was only ten miles out). Also, at this point the trail turned downward again, and we got to give back all that vertical gain. I ran for a while with a woman from Layton, UT, who mentioned that she had never done a 50K before and had trained only to sixteen miles as a long run! She left me behind when I once again couldn’t navigate the rocky descents fast enough. I also found that whenever I tried to accelerate a lot, I developed a stitch in my ribs (the altitude? Pushing too hard?) and I just couldn’t keep up. I had been gunning to finish strong, maybe even top three in my age group, but I realized at this point that I was going to have to just run my own race and finish when I finished.

That is the dao of the trail, I guess.

Mountains, near the End of the Course

Mountains, near the End of the Course

During this section, I came down around a bend and looked up to see two buffalo standing in a field. They were maybe a hundred and fifty feet from me, without any sort of protective fence between us. Wow. So I stopped and took a picture. They were unimpressed.

No Fence

No Fence

After the buffalo, the trail eventually narrowed and went into this area along the western side of the island where there were a lot of plants very close to the trail that were dry and kind of spikey, perfect for scraping the fuck out of my legs. Seriously, plants, what did I ever do to you? I was bleeding in half a dozen places by the end of the race, not fun. The best cut was right on my right ankle, perfect for accidentally kicking with my left foot (I am not graceful), and then good for a quarter mile of pain.

Eventually I reached the aid station and dumped some water over my head, which made me feel better. But I was tired after all the up and down of the first twenty miles, and pretty much ready to be done.

The Two Close-Together Aid Stations (Mile 20 to Mile 24ish)

This was the section where the bargaining began. I was feeling pretty woobly from the heat, so although the course was pretty flat, I started to walk. For a while, my right hip flexor was cramping up. But I knew I was so far from the finish line that I couldn’t just walk until I felt totally better, because I would never feel better until I could stop running and I would never get to the finish line walking. So I started to make deals with myself—run for half a mile, then you can walk for .05 miles. Repeat. Although my times were a pretty steady 11:30 min/mi during this section, and I felt really pretty terrible, I kept passing people, so either I wasn’t the only one having a bad time of it or I managed to out-strategize a lot of people.

The fourth aid station was over a ridge near mile 24. I had been planning to walk, but I crested the ridge and saw it, so I kept running. Yay, more water dumped over my head. (Sadly, none of the aid stations had ice.) Yay, more potato chips.

Mile 24 to the Finish

Leaving the mile 24 aid station, I was relatively sure I had five miles to go. The aid station personnel thought the distance was more like six to seven. They also thought that there was a water-only aid station between them and the finish, though this turned out not to be true. I continued my run/walk strategy for a while here, crossing the 26.2 mark in 5:21:43 (a personal not best) and picking off several more people. Despite my slow speed, I was making progress. The course at this point was very boring—lots of scrubland, the salt lake kind of in the distance, no real change in altitude from mile to mile, nothing to focus on but the passing of a few trees and rocks and the odd pile of ossified buffalo droppings.

Right around mile 27, and just before I was about to allow myself another walking break, I came up behind that woman from Layton again.

Remember her?

As I came up behind her, debating about whether to try to pass or to walk and let her get a lead again, she turned around and said the most magical words I could have heard: “I think I see it.” I was actually kind of unsure at this point what “it” was—the drink station? The finish line? Maitreya Buddha? But I actually did not care. She took off and I took off after her.

I was looking, but I could not for the longest time see whatever she had been referring to. Finally I saw a glint of light at the top of a hill—maybe light off a car’s windshield, but it could have been our destination. Layton and I had some discussion about how far we thought the race actually was. As she said she wasn’t sure if we were going twenty-nine or thirty miles, another woman came up behind us and remarked that she was still telling her friends she did a 50K. I said, “Of course!” We chatted for a brief bit, and then when the trail widened I sped up and passed both of them. For a while I thought we would stick together and finish the race, but they were slowing down, and I could smell the barn.

"SAY CHEESE"

“SAY CHEESE”

I reached the fence we’d run along at the very beginning and crossed though an open spot, only to face another climb. My watch suggests it was about 224 feet of elevation gain in a mile or so, I think about a 5.8 percent grade. I was kind of annoyed, but stumbled up it using a hike/run strategy. At the top, just by the turnoff for the half marathon course, was a herd of buffalo (on the other side of the fence this time). Wow! They seemed unimpressed to see yet another runner stumble past.

The road turned down for one final descent. There was a guy ahead of me in a yellow t-shirt, and I suddenly wanted to pick him off and add one last catch to my list, so I sped up as much as my incredibly tight quads would allow. Better yet, as I came within range of the finish, B, Daniel, and Claire were all standing there cheering me on! I crossed the finish line within a few seconds of the guy in yellow (I was so close to catching him!) and was awarded a coffee cup. I think I said something really intelligent to B, like, “They gave me a coffee cup!” Then I sat down for a while before I could fall over.

Final Tally

Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)

Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)

I finished 29.88 miles (according to my watch) in 6:04:24, a 12:12 min/mi pace. According to my watch, the course had just over 3,100 feet of elevation gain. The results at UltraSignUp.com are still somewhat preliminary as of this writing, but I am listed as 6th woman, 4th in my age group, and 22nd overall finisher. I learned that I should be careful of climate differences (WI had a cold snap, so it had been quite a long time since I’d run in warm weather), bring something to shade my head/neck from the sun (no trees), and give the elevation its due. I did a good job at staying on top of salt and calories all day, and I think my run/walk strategy was pretty successful, considering how many people I passed in the last ten miles.

My foot was actually totally fine though the race, giving me no more than passing discomfort. At some point my hip slipped out (my SI joint got stuck) and I finished with knee pain and lower back pain because of it, and I also totally blew up my quads, and my calves are hurting if I sit for too long, but other than that I feel remarkably good. My PT will be happy. The race was well-organized and enjoyable, the course a real challenge. I had a hell of a time.

A special thank you to Bryan, Daniel, and Claire, for not just making this madness possible but for supporting me through to the end. Having you guys there to cheer me on in the last moments was really amazing. Also special special thanks for helping me get a new Garmin last minute. It worked out really well and was super useful during the race.

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My Finish (Photo by Daniel)

Also I’m going to stick to half marathons for a while. Holy cow.


[1] When I was a kid, my parents used to stick me in the car and drive me out to Fermi Lab (the supercollider) to look at the buffalo (really, this was a method of making me fall asleep). The sign at Fermi Lab said, “Don’t try to cross this pasture unless you can do it in nine seconds, because the bull takes ten.” I have no recollection of how big the pasture was (though I do think I wanted to feed the buffalo Cheerios, as though they were ducks), but in my mind this means that buffalo are both fast and mean.

[2] Does that sound lame? It was an important psychological goal—during the last few miles of climb leading up to the mile 14 aid station, I was counting down—“Only three more miles before I get to text B.” The idea was to tell him my time at the halfway point to help better gauge the SLC crew’s departure to Antelope Island. Unfortunately I realized after the race that my text hadn’t gone through. Whomp whomp, sad tromboon.

Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)

Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)

North Face Endurance Challenge — Marathon in Eagle, WI

nfec results This has been the weirdest “b” race ever, guys. Not only was the training weird, but I tapered for the race, which I never do, and it was a weird taper.

For one thing, it was the only taper in my life that I spent in Europe eating Belgian waffles and French pastries. It was also the only taper (of recent memory) done without a pool available.

Swimming is typically my go-to cross-training because it gives me sexy shoulder muscles, can be done inside (an important consideration this time of year in Wisconsin), and is non-impact. But for this taper at first I was in Belgium and France for two weeks, and while I could have gone over to one of the local pools and gotten a day pass, I was under some obligation to spend time with my family. Anyway, I was walking a ton (it’s Europe), so it didn’t really seem necessary to “work out” outside of my every-other day schedule of running. To keep up my cardio fitness, I ran 8–10 miles at a go every other day, and occasionally did body-weight exercises with B.[1] The day we got back from Europe was the day our gym started its annual cleaning of the lap pool; it reopened the Monday after the race. So I was been totally on my own for the last week.

When a pool is unavailable, there’s always biking. I enjoy biking, sort of. I’m not good at it. So last Sunday after
my run I biked 10 miles to my Chinese class and back (5 miles in each direction to the Social Sciences building—and I got to watch the IM marathon when I was heading home). Monday I biked around some of the rural area outside of Middleton, about 25 miles total. Then Wednesday. . . it was both 45 degrees and raining, so I went to spin class. Friday it was also 45 degrees and raining, so I did more spin. You would not believe (or maybe you would) how energetic one feels when one is in marathon shape, and how difficult it is to get what feels like a good (tiring) workout when you are totally primed to run for four hours without stopping. I guess that means that I had a successful taper because I felt strong and a little crazy.

But still: What is it about spin bikes that no matter how hard I think I’m pedaling, the little odometer always tells me I went 25 miles in an hour? And why can I do only half of that on the mean streets? And why do I sweat so damn much while spinning? And how can I make it stop irritating my bad foot when I stand on the pedals?

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My foot, taped by both the PT and myself

Such questions. I apologize about this blog, by the way. I’ve missed you guys. But here I am almost five hundred words in and I haven’t gotten to the race yet. Also I apologize that I’ve yet to make up my mind about whether I think a colon should be followed by a capital letter (whether or not it introduces a full sentence). I changed the “w” above.
I signed up for this race as a way to gauge my fitness/training before the Antelope Island 50k next month. It also served as my last and longest training run. In a world where I was paying attention to things like having a training plan, my long runs would have gone something like this: (various stuff working up to) 15, 18, 15, 18, 20, 26.2 (and then some taper before the 50k). Instead I have done, starting the first week of July, 17, 13, [10k—tri day], 20, 13, 18, 20, 15, 10, 10. The 15 was the day before I left for Europe, the second 10 was the day after I got back. On the one hand, I actually missed or shortened three of the planned FIVE twenty-milers the plan my friends were following had scheduled. On the other hand, I am not someone who can run over twenty miles a lot and remain uninjured. I am backed up by historical data on this. I need to write myself some reminder post-it notes that say: Don’t do track speed work; don’t wear minimalist shoes; don’t run more than twenty miles once per marathon training cycle (or potentially: don’t run marathons); don’t do two-a-days.

I have done every single one of those fucking things during this marathon training cycle (er, except for the “don’t run marathons” part—though I guess I just did that?), and not surprisingly my right foot is a little angry about it. But not angry enough that I needed to miss the marathon. Just angry enough that I am running on “step down” (which means every other day rather than my normal five days per week schedule), and I had my PT tape my foot on Friday. I’m hopeful I’ll be back in full fighting shape by October, but for now I didn’t have high expectations going into the NFEC. My goals were like this:

  • A goal: Sub-4 hours. I was in shape for this, with the exception of my foot that won’t get with the program. If it were a road marathon I would probably expect to clock in right around four hours, even with the issues. However it was a trail race, which means probably not.
  • B goal: 4:30:xx. This would be a solid time for a technical trail marathon, and per last years’ finishing times would still put me in the top five women. So it was probably a pipe dream.
  • C goal: Sub-5 hours. This was probably a reasonable time given foot and terrain. It would probably be a pretty solid time for this course. (This assumption based on my experiences running elsewhere in the Kettles.)
20140913_064717

Early morning pre-race selfie

Writing this introductory portion of the race report the night before, I should note that my week has looked like this:

  • Sunday: Run 10, bike 10
  • Monday: Bike 25
  • Tuesday: Run 10
  • Wednesday: Spin class (“25”), aikido
  • Thursday: Run 10
  • Friday: Spin class (“30”, because I started early)

B looked at this and said, “Have you heard of a taper?” So taper is as taper does, apparently. (Help me out, what does that actually mean?)

The Race

The race had a late start (9:00am) so I was able to sleep in until 6:25 before getting up to begin my pre-race rituals (eat a raspberry Pop Tart while reading The New Yorker). At 7:15 I stuck my stuff in the car. Then I panicked and ran back upstairs for an emergency piece of tape for my foot (in addition to the tape that the PT put on yesterday). I rolled out around 7:20.

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I-94 to Eagle, WI

The drive over was fine. I felt relaxed. Then after a while I felt tense. I arrived about 20 minutes early and jogged over to the park bathroom (which, by the way, had actual flush toilets and soap!). And. . . my foot didn’t hurt at all. I jogged back to the car. It was still fine. Incredible. I decided to add one more piece of tape to a spot that was sort of bugging me (see picture above). I put on the t-shirt with my number pinned to it while cramming a protein bar in my mouth, grabbed my hydration pack, and set off for the starting line.

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“It’s 45 degrees outside”

One thing I have to say is that I was impressed by how much parking was available and how close to the starting line I got to park. Another thing that was impressive was how cold it was (about 45 at the start, I’d guess). The race officials had little heat lamps and fire pits for us to warm our hands over.

The race started. I had decided on the following strategy: Run a conservative first half, then pick it up. Walk hills if necessary, and be prepared to hike it in if the foot gives out. So I went out at a pace that felt pretty slow. We ran along the side of a road (Cty Highway ZZ I think) for a while, then turned onto a grassy/muddy path going up a rather mild incline. Later I found out I made it through the 1.8 mi aid station in about 16 min—a 9:16 pace, not exactly relaxed.

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Starting line

It took me about twenty minutes to get bored. While ultra runners are typically a chatty bunch, road marathoners are often quite serious—they have times to hit, Boston to qualify for, that sort of thing. Well, nuts to that. In what is a giant leap out of my shell, as soon as I came up next to someone who was going my pace, I started chatting with him. He was from Sandwich, IL, a 21-year old guy named Shane who worked as a restorer of houses and was interested in becoming a pastor. We talked for about twenty minutes, then he left me behind and I started talking to a professor of entrepreneurship from Marquette University. He was an interesting guy, had studied classical Chinese back in the day and had a son who was totally fluent in Mandarin.[2] The professor thought he was on track to win his AG (men 64+), so was running a pretty conservative race. I hung with him for about forty-five minutes (through the seven-ish mile aid station and beyond) before he stopped to stretch a calf and I rolled on ahead.

20140913_110657

The prairie area

After a few switchbacks we emerged onto the prairie. I met up with two other marathoners, Nicole and Matt, and we chatted through the 11.7-mile aid station. I was still feeling really good at this point—my foot was doing really well on the soft ground (the rain from the last few days proved useful I guess) and I felt strong and happy. I ate a gel at about 1:50:xx and then grabbed some potato chips and a piece of boiled potato dipped in salt going through the aid station; although it wasn’t really a hit-the-salt-hard day, I have been struggling with stomach cramps all summer caused by salt issues, so I decided I wasn’t going to forego it completely.

I lost my companions after the aid station and went on for a while alone. My foot was beginning to bother me, but in truth the pain from the tape rubbing on my skin was worse than anything else. The terrain was very runnable, the weather still comfortably cool. Around (what I think was) mile 17, I passed a guy who made a remark about how he was going to follow me, since I had a good pace going. I laughed and we chatted for most of the next nine miles. His name was Wes; we talked about running, our jobs, his kids, and lots of various sundry things. We also met the single largest climb in the race—it was right around mile 19, and nowhere near as scary as Shane (remember Shane?) had suggested to me that it was. Certainly it was quite steep, and I hiked it rather than try to run it, but it wasn’t super arduous, and I probably could have run it if I’d had a gun on me.

By mile 20, my foot was starting to hurt. And my other foot hurt. And so did my ribs and my abs and. Well, you get the picture. But I knew something was going to hurt. You don’t come unscathed out of a marathon. So onward I went. The terrain had settled down after the big hill and was really pretty easy to run despite my discomfort. As we neared the end (I think close to the two miles to go mark), Wes dropped back to take a gel and I decided to try for some kind of finishing kick.

20140913_131847

More typical Ice Age trail (aka the hill where my quads died)

I passed a couple of people (50k-ers and marathon relay people) and started up a really long, low grade hill. This was the point that I tried to speed up and realized how trashed my quads were. I was being passed at this point by a seemingly endless stream of marathon relayers going in the opposite direction and a few coming back. Eventually I crested the hill and tried to push it a bit back to the finish, including passing a lady (50k, sadly, not marathon) in the last fifty feet before the finish. When I turned around, Wes was right behind me—apparently he’d been trying to catch me but couldn’t. We fist-bumped and I wished him well.

20140913_133355-MIX

Post-race selfies

I’d finished in 4:30:47 (watch time); I assumed, based on the good (cool) weather and course conditions, that I wouldn’t have placed. But I decided to wander over and get my results anyway before I left. Surprisingly, I was the 11th woman overall, and the 3rd in my age group (of 7). So I hit my B time and still managed to place. Nice. I got a little baggie of prizes, including sleeves, which I am excited to try out sometime this week.

Post-Race

I stumbled back to my car and stopped at a gas station on my way back to Madison for coffee and chocolate milk. I was already sore as I shambled around the store, and things only got worse by the time I got home. But despite my feeling (at the end of the race) that my left big toe was probably bleeding and that my right little toe might have fallen totally off, here is the sum total of the damage:

  • Bruise on back from hydration pack
  • Sore quads
  • Some chafing of various soft tissues
  • A blister the size of my thumb under the tape on my right foot
  • Everything from the knees down a bit muddy

So that’s not too bad at all. As I write this (following icing and ibuprofen), my foot feels really good (except for the blister). Score one for the PT.

I think that’s all I have to report. For those thinking of doing it, the NFEC is a great course, very runnable but not unchallenging, in a beautiful park, and the race is really well organized. I’m impressed on all counts.


[1] At our last hotel in Brussels, we actually had access to a universal machine in the gym, which was nice but a little confusing—rather than labeling any of the weights as pounds or kilograms, it just said “10, 20, 30” and so on. 20 what?

[2] If you want to be famous, the Chinese seem endlessly amused by Westerners who can speak Chinese fluently. I have never myself been that fluent. Actually, I don’t really understand the draw—as I’ve told some various relatives, there are about 960 million native speakers (as of 2010), making it far and away the most commonly spoken language on the planet. This means that when you learn Chinese, you are doing nothing that has not already been done by LITERALLY a billion people. But the Chinese seem to find it so entertaining! Compare that to Americans, who tend to think that learning English is basically THE LEAST you can do.

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My medals from summer racing — Viroqua tri, Couples duathlon, and NFEC

Capital View “Couples” Duathlon

Lest you think my life is entirely given over to literature now . . .

I got up at 5:10 this morning to go do a duathlon, primarily because I signed up for it in a fit of enthusiasm back in . . . March or something. It was so close to my house, such a good chance to practice biking in race conditions before my tri in July. It would be fun.

Fun. I remember fun.

Okay, so I went into this race feeling a bit overtrained. “But Em, overtraining sounds like a positive thing, like you’re really on top of your training!” No. Overtraining is a thing that can happen if you train too much and don’t recover sufficiently–don’t take enough days off.[1] Symptoms include fatigue and decreased performance (despite speed work, you’re not getting faster); gastrointestinal upset; an increase in respiration rates or higher resting heart rate; lower appetite and increased thirst; decreased motivation to work out; feelings of sadness/depression or anxiety (for example, if you typically keep your anxiety in check with exercise, you may suddenly find yourself having an anxiety attack about your cat at midnight one night). Oh, changing sleep patterns too. If I get really bad, I tend to get night sweats.[2] So yeah, it’s a lot of fun not very fun. Lately I’ve had to drag myself out the door in the morning, and although my legs feel strong on the run, I feel mentally disconnected from what I’m doing. Add to that an ever-changing variety of stomach issues and the anxiety thing . . . it has been a rough few weeks around here.

Anyway, after I finally figured out what was going on, I decided to use my taper (yeah, I tapered for this) as the beginning of recovery, and just do the best I could with what I had in the tank on race day. Aside from getting lost on what was supposed to be an easy Friday morning bike ride[3], I think things went pretty well on that account. The race was a (trail) 5k, a 25-mi bike, and another trail 5k, which makes it pretty typical for duathlons in this area, although Wikipedia says the “classic” distance is in fact 10k run, 44km bike (a bit more than a marathon, for those that don’t do metric), and 5k run[4]. I completed these events plus two transitions in 2:43:19.2, good enough for 6th 5th in my age group and 36th35th overall. Here’s a quick breakdown of what happened.

Run 1

The last race (a trail half marathon) I did, I had to drive an hour between breakfast and the start of the race, so I was STARVING by mile two. This time, I grabbed a granola bar right before kickoff, and I think it was a good decision. The trails were wide and grassy, but not too spongy from last night’s rain. The biggest difficulty was in the sandy sections on the second loop. I was still pretty miffed with the event staff and volunteers for being badly set up and unable to answer any questions, so I basically stomped my way through. Perhaps because it was on trails (or because i had to run so damn much getting to packet pickup and transition), I couldn’t hold my planned 8:30/mi pace, but I finished in 27:21 (8:49 pace), not too far off.

Bike

Transition went relatively quickly (2:07) despite my never bothering to practice (oops). Also one never practices running in clip-in shoes, which is too bad because it is a pain in the ass.

Ok, I knew the course relatively well (I live five miles from it, after all)–it was a lolly pop shape–outbound to Enchanted Valley Road, a loop through Cross Plains, then back. Having ridden it Friday, I had a plan in place for where I was going to push it (the long flat section on Schneider Road, both directions); where the hills were (small rollers in the first five miles, then a bunch of downhill on bad roads, then some climb, then we’re back to the rollers); and where I was going to eat my gel (salted caramel flavor!). What I didn’t expect was the temperature–it was at least ten degrees colder than I thought it was going to be (it was maybe 60 when I expected 70-75 and humid), and overcast, and I was racing in a sleeveless tri top and very short shorts.

As I was running out of transition, I heard a woman shout to another racer, “Stay down on the hills, try to build some warmth.” Figuring this was a good plan, I stayed on the drop bars as much as I could throughout the race, and I think it made a difference in my time, which was a personal best in terms of average speed. I did get passed by a lot of people though–everyone from sixty year olds to guys on bikes that cost as much as my car.[5] I could appreciate, watching them, how useful aero bars are for position–given my geometry on the drop bars, I think properly positioned aero bars would get me quite low. But most of the riders with aero bars had bikes that were geared to allow them to climb hills without getting out of the aero position, while on my bike I find it most useful to get off the drop bars (and even stand up and shift my weight forward) to climb, so I don’t know that it would really be worth it overall.

I was alone for most of the first fifteen miles of the bike, but it was actually quite pleasant. I sang some various songs to keep myself company. (Example one; example two.) By mile 15, the oly triathletes had started to catch me, so I was within sight of others for the rest of the course. (Unlike cycling, drafting is not allowed in triathlon, so riders never bunch up into a peloton.) Around mile 17, I started thinking I should plan for the second transition . . . ultimately I decided to dismount in the normal way and do the run-in in my bike shoes rather than trying something weird like getting my feet out of my shoes before the dismount. In the last five miles I passed: two older people who had gotten off to walk their bikes up a hill; two older guys (50+) on mountain bikes, a woman whose chain jammed as she tried to pass me, and a 50-something woman who was having a devil of a time on the last hill.

I’m so badass, man. Elapsed time: 1:41:05, 14.8 mph.

Run 2

A few steps into the transition area, I stopped to take off my bike shoes to see if that would speed me up. My toes were totally numb from biking fast in the cold, but not numb enough that I didn’t feel the pavement under them. Ow! So I hobbled over and switched up my kit. T2 time: 2:40, very consistent.

The second run was basically the first run backward, sort of. The first run had consisted of an A loop and a B loop (arranged like a figure-8). The second run did the B loop first (forward), then the A loop (backward). I wish they had said that at the starting line instead of “follow the signs for the Sprint,” because I saw exactly one sign that said “Sprint” on it. During this run I passed at least one woman wearing a duathlon bib and saw a couple of others who were pretty far behind, so I knew I wasn’t last even though I felt like I was. I was, however, tired. I let myself shuffle along at whatever seemed like a sustainable pace; as the numbness in my toes receded, I found myself picking up the pace, and I think I actually did negative splits. My stomach was beginning to complain (cramp) at this point, but I told it to shut up because there was only a mile left to go, and I soldiered on. The second run was about three minutes slower–I finished in 30:04, a 9:42 pace. Not amazing, but could be worse.

Final Analysis

It’s clear that my crappy bike time was really the limiting factor here. Looking at all (50) finishers, there’s a strong correlation between the bike time and overall finishing order.[6] Also, almost everyone in the top 10 had a more consistent time between R1 and R2–they were within about a minute of each other. However, that particular fact is not relevant since I’m not doing another duathlon this season (as far as I know). Getting my bike speed up to 15 or even 16 mph would make a big difference in my finish. My main takeaways for July’s tri are: 1.) Gel around mi 11 is a great idea. 2.) Bike a lot more before July. 3.) Stop being overtrained. That’s all. Here’s a picture of my animals to thank you for reading this. Hat tip to Michelle (a former coworker from long ago), whose report on the sprint tri spurred me to write my own. Also, sorry about all the parenthetical remarks.

Hangin' Out

Hangin’ Out

Notes

[1] If you frequent fitness message boards, you often see people asking questions that amount to something like “I’m walking a mile per day worried about overtraining lol.” (Sorry, it’s the internet.) They’re probably not overtraining. But just because they’re not doesn’t mean nobody is, which I tend to forget until I hit the spot of oops too much. Also it goes to show you that everybody thinks their workout is super badass. As for me, my last two weeks before this one were 35 mi run/54 mi bike/2500 yds swim (week ending 31 May) and 51 mi run/37 mi bike/2500 yards swim (week ending 25 May)–doesn’t seem too onerous, but I guess it crept up on me. I did run 196 mi in May and 206 in April, suggesting a high weekly average.

[2] Other symptoms can be found by googling the term “overtraining,” but this 90s-era website has a fairly comprehensive list and looks reputable.

[3] Amusingly, in my attempt to figure out where the “challenging hill right before mile 15” (as listed on the course description) was, I took a wrong turn and wound up biking up a much more difficult hill.

[4] Duathlon.com says 40k rather than 44k. Regardless, nothing in Wisconsin has a 10k/5k runs, to say nothing of long distances that can range up to 15k/80k/7.5k or 5k/56 mi/13.1 mi. Since I basically decided a few years ago I wasn’t going to travel over about 40 minutes for races that were shorter than a half marathon, I’ve not been super interested in going places in order to run two miles, bike 12 miles, and run another two miles.

[5] If you are a 43-year-old white man with a bike worth over $5k and an M-Dot tattoo on your calf, I have nothing to say to you.

[6] Actually, my idea of using the runs to compensate for the bike made me something of an anomaly–no one who finished ahead of me had a speed of under 15 mph, as well as the next four finishers behind me!

Em oi! #387: Bad Dog

Bad Dog

Proof:
Dog!

Oof. Remember when I used to have time to blog? Me neither.

Ironically, I finished this drawing almost a month ago, when we were visiting Baltimore. But I didn’t get it posted the week we came back because we were packing for the move, and then we were moving. After the move, first I couldn’t find the sketchbook. Then I found the sketchbook but I didn’t know where my eraser (the one surviving eraser at this point), so I couldn’t finish the sketch. Last night I decided to get my act together.

I’ll file this under: SF429.S63 L86 2013, which stands for:
Animal culture–Pets–Dogs–By breed, A-Z–Shiba dogs.

More comics about the dog here and here.

I ran the Baltimore Running Festival half marathon on the 12th of October. It was fun. I was going to write a race report, but let’s face it: The chances of that happening are kind of slim at this point. I get up every morning at 5:30 to start work on my thesis, then I work out and do actual work, and after all that I have no energy left. So enjoy a few photos from the run:

go pass

My MTA ticket. I ❤ public transit.

pre race

Looking skeptical before the race.

starting line

There was a goodly walk from where we lined up to the starting line, the last bit was uphill. It was a bit confusing. I bet people who actually read their race packet knew about this though.

socks

It’s the Natty Boh man. We’re in B’more, hon.

lake building

I’d been reading _From Hell_, and this building looked strangely like some freemason business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

empty rowhouses

Running past empty rowhouses.

done

Post-race. I finished in 2:00:07.

Race Report: Dances with Dirt

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love(?) the Pain

So, begin at the beginning. Back in April I did a race called the Trailbreaker Marathon. While I was there I met this woman named Shannon who is a super-dedicated runner who loves to race. We hit it off, and she suggested we get the band back together for a trail race up in Merrimac, WI (about 55 minutes from here) called Dances with Dirt. After some discussion, we decided to do the marathon, and I thought no more about it for a while.

During May and June it rained most of the time, so I did only a few short trail run. This was probably, in retrospect, an error. But I’ve done a lot of trail races as a tourist–someone who runs trails infrequently.

Packet Pickup. Photo by Shannon.

Packet Pickup. Photo by Shannon.

Friday the 12th of July. I headed up to Devil’s Head Resort. Shannon and I ate a large quantity of pasta and picked up our race packets. Another friend of hers (Ruth) had come up from the Milwaukee area to do the 50k, so we all had a very early night. I unfortunately passed on the opportunity to sing karaoke to a bar full of intoxicated golfers. Next time. . .

The next morning, alarms were going off at various times. I tried resolutely to ignore them all, and I think I caught a few minutes of sleep between whenever Ruth’s went off (4:ohmygod) and mine (the much more sensible 5:35). I got dressed and put in my contacts. Then I decided something was wrong with my left lens and took it out briefly. Then I thought everything was fine.

Because checkout was 11:00, we would have to run a 4:30 or better to be back to the room by then. Since the course included about 3700 feet of elevation gain, we decided to err on the side of things taking a long time and packed all our belongings to put in our cars before the race. Then we had to jog to the starting line. (Call it a warm up.)

Just before the gun, when the announcer was saying “Thirty seconds until we start,” I noticed that my left contact was twisted. I have a pretty bad astigmatism in my left eye and need to wear special contacts for it. They’re called “toric lenses.” Anyway, when you wear this type of lens, if the lens is not properly oriented on your eye, things can look blurry. The clear vision in your other eye can compensate somewhat, but you still have a weird feeling of seeing…not quite double, but not quite single either. I tried quickly to fix the lens, but I didn’t have time (or clean enough hands) to take it out and inspect it. In retrospect, I should have MADE the time.
Hindsight is pretty much the only thing I have 20/20 vision on.

At the gun we charged off. The first half mile of the course was nice—flat, occasionally paved, and the weather was gorgeous. Then we hit the first hill.

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that I’m not a huge single track person, and this is why: As soon as we hit the hill, we started walking. The person in front of me (a guy in a green shirt and VFFs) controlled when I started jogging and stopped again, and he was in turn controlled by the person in front of him. In this configuration you can never feel rested from the breaks or ready to stop running because you’re not in charge of when you run or don’t run.
The hilly section didn’t last forever, though, and we settled down into some very runnable terrain, with the exception of a very rocky portion. I’ll get back to this later. At the time, I joked to Shannon that it was like running tires on a military obstacle course. There were some hills, but nothing seemed severe in light of what we had just traversed (everyone hiked that initial hill because it was steep).

The climb up to South Bluff. Photo by Shannon.

The climb up to South Bluff. Photo by Shannon.

Just after mile 10, we began a climb up a section of roughly paved cement steps. There was a tall rock to our left and a drop to the right. Occasionally we could see Devil’s Lake peeking through the trees on the drop side. After about two leg-killing miles of this, we reached the South Bluff aid station—possibly the most magnificent aid station I’ve visited. From there, we had a view of the lake and the entire valley. Hawks (or vultures, I couldn’t tell) circled above us. I felt a wave of vertigo and edged away from the cliff.

About three quarters(?) of the way up. That'd Devil's Lake behind us. Photo by Shannon.

About three quarters(?) of the way up. That’s Devil’s Lake behind us. Photo by Shannon.

On the way down the other side, Shannon said that every step of the last twelve miles had been worth it, just to see that view. I think about 80% of the steps were probably worthwhile.

The next part of the run, miles 13-17, were a very runnable bit of downhill single track. It was all firm dirt (with an occasional but not problematic mudhole). I celebrated by falling down. Actually I fell down three times between mile thirteen and mile fourteen. On the first fall, I bloodied my shin. The second and third falls just stung my pride, or so I thought. I think partly the problem was not seeing super clearly as I tried to make up time by flying down these narrow trails, and part of the problem was that as I become increasingly tired, I probably lift my feet less and less.

The view from the top. Photo by Shannon. Or actually by someone she handed her camera to. But her camera.

The view from the top. Photo by Shannon. Or actually by someone she handed her camera to. But her camera.

Eventually we emerged from the single track onto a flat grass prairie area. I heard and then saw two sandhill cranes flying over. Then I realized we were going to have to go up the hill we’d just come down again. Only first we were going to have to run across the grassland to a turnaround (mile 16-ish) and back. Fun.

After the turnaround, Shannon started putting on the gas. I suddenly realized that my right hip—which had taken the brunt of the third fall—was hurting, and I couldn’t keep up with her. Eventually she said she was going to push the pace to see if she could get back to the hotel in time for a shower, and I let her go. It was not going to be a day for breaking speed records.

This would be the point where I realized that I don’t hate singletrack nearly as much as I hate two-way singletrack.

The hill really stood out over the grassy area; I could see it rising up on the horizon well before I reached it. Shannon was gone by this point, leaving me to hike back up the hill using a ten/ten pattern I made up: jog for ten steps (counting each step when your left foot hits, so really twenty step), then walk for ten steps (counted the same way). Eventually I got to what I thought was the top…only to find that it kept going. That hill was basically miles 17-20. I thought about Napoleon invading Russia. I thought about the Bataan Death March. I thought about how much it would suck to fall down again (I was running over big chunks of rock or shale at this point). I noticed that going down hills was becoming increasingly painful; something had gone wrong with my left knee. That was weird.

Then, a bit past the top, I fell down again.

I got up and cried a little. I was rude to some passers-by. And then. . .I kept going, shambling along at a steady run-walk. I think I was hitting about 12 min/mi, a bit faster on the flats. I had ten kilometers left to go. Any idiot, I told myself, can run a 10k.

I was back at the first major aid station (major means they have food). It marked the 20.5 mile point. I grabbed half a boiled potato, dipped it in salt, and scarfed it down. I would have had more, but I didn’t want to overload my stomach and cause myself even more grief. I dumped a cup of water over my head too, because it was getting hot out.
The last few miles of the course were the same as the first few miles, except backward. So remember that really rocky section I mentioned earlier? At full health I could probably have done that at a goodly clip, but this time I was reduced to hiking. A few people passed me, not many, and I watched the clock tick toward five hours, then past. I was pretty sure I was going to be the last one finished. How embarrassing.

I rolled in the mud. Photo by Shannon.

I rolled in the mud. Photo by Shannon.

At one point, a guy came up behind me. He crashed along for a while, slowing down when I had to slow down on the downhill. He said, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Then he passed me. A few feet later he fell ass over teakettle.

He got up, laughed, and said it was the first time he’d fallen all day. Luckily he left before I could hit him.
At just about 26 miles, which is to say .2 miles from the end, I emerged from the woods onto a paved bike path. It looked flat, so I decided to make a concerted effort to hustle for the finish line and at least cross it looking strong. The bike path turned suddenly into a gravel road that went up a hill, and then halfway up it turned right into a thicket of bushes. I started into the bushes, pushing myself down the hill there, and suddenly I was airborne again.

I sort of rolled over in the dirt and cried. I was never doing any trail races ever again. I was never doing any marathons again. Obviously my ACL and my meniscus were probably torn or shattered. Nothing would ever be good again.
Then I realized that the 50 milers and 50k runners who were still behind me were going to find me lying in the dirt, and I had to go another hundred feet to finish. So I got up. I staggered, bloody and covered in mud, across the finish line in 5:18:42.4.

One woman, an older lady, looked at me as I shambled up and said, in the kindest possible voice, “Would you like some ice cold water?”

YES, I would. I asked about a first aid tent. But before I could hustle off, a woman with a clipboard asked my age group and told me I’d got fourth place.

I won a pint glass.

I won 4th place! First place was a bucket.

I won 4th place! First place was a bucket.

Fourth place! I’ve never placed at the marathon distance before. I felt perplexed, and somewhat better than I’d been feeling a few minutes before. I hazarded that if my knee survived, I would probably run again (a good thing, since I’m already signed up for The Baltimore Marathon).

The paramedics working the first aid tent sat me down on a cot. They carefully washed my legs off and diagnosed me with road rash. I got a big bandaid and some antibiotic ointment on the big gash on my shin and something called “chigger cream” on my other scrapes. The chigger cream had lidocaine in it, so soon I was able to hobble back to my car, free from the obnoxious grating in my knee. I still had enough water left to wash off my hands. Then, like Tricia McMillian, I finally fixed my contact lens.

I turned on the AC and played rock music at an unjustifiable volume all the way home. By the time I arrived, I’d recovered my humor. Also, Bryan was making brownies. He didn’t know they were post-marathon-for-Em brownies (he thought they were for some friends who were coming over). They were delicious.

A post-script on my knee: After our friends left and Bryan went to rehearsal, I looked up the symptoms of ACL tear (key words: knee instability, pain so bad you want to puke) and meniscus problems (key words: knee freezes or locks up) and realized I had neither of those problems. When Bryan came home, we determined that the problem was in fact my SI joint had got stuck. I probably jammed it when I fell the third time (a fall that left a lovely constellation of bruises on my right thigh). We unstuck it and my knee was back to normal the next day.

Finish: 5:18:42.4, 4th in my age group, 9th woman overall. 43rd overall in the race. What I didn’t realize—the fastest time was only 4:09. Compare to other recent, local marathons: Grandma’s was won in 2:11, Lakefront 2012 was 2:27, Green Bay was 2:18. This is the difference that 3,000+ feet of climb over rough terrain makes: about two hours.

My hair ALONE is worth a medal.

My hair ALONE is worth a medal.