Monday, June 14, 2010

The Great Plains

Today, I ventured away from my comfort zone of the wooded trails, to do some training on the flatter than a pancake levee trail.  We've had a lot of rain lately and I'm trying to be better about "leaving no trace".  That includes trash AND giant footprints.  Ok, I don't really have giant feet, but running or cycling in the mud can cause damage to trails.  Beside that, I thought it would be good training for the Heartland Spirit of the Prairie 100 in October.

So I ran what I think is 10 miles.  When I ran out of levee to run at 3.75 miles, I turned on a dirt road to make up the rest of the distance then head back.  Luckily, it was overcast with a slight breeze most of the time, although I raced the sun back for the last few miles.  Here are a few shots.
Crossed the railroad tracks to decide which way to go. Ended up going back across the railroad tracks and running down the dirt road pictured here.  Didn't see any vehicles while I was on it.  

Was amused to find that at some point I had crossed into another county! The sign reads "LV County Maintenance Ends".  LV stands for Leavenworth county. Yes, the Leavenworth county that contains THE infamous Leavenworth.  For the record, I live and started running in Douglas county.

The gravel on the dirt road was pretty large.  I assume this will be representative of what I'll be running on at Heartland.  I have a lot of training ahead of me to toughen up my feet, not to mention my mind.  I practiced looking down at the ground in front of me while I ran.  The risk of looking ahead of you is that you'll pick out a point in the distance to focus on.  That's a bad idea in wide open spaces.  You don't realize how far away things are.

The view of the corn crops on the levee.  The levee trail is bordered by the river (duh) on the south and farmland on the north.  I'm starting to appreciate the beauty of the plains more and more.  Yes, mountains and oceans are awesome, but the midwest has its own unique beauty too.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stretched Thin

So I have this thing.  I like to be there for people: my friends, my boyfriend, my family, the community and sometimes even myself.  And sometimes, like this weekend, things come to a head and I just can't do it all.  When that happens I have a difficult time deciding what to do and who comes first. 

Before the Trail Hawks prez, Gary Henry, left on vacation, I assured him I would lead the Saturday long runs.  Gary's a friend of mine and the Trail Hawks are my running family.  I take my commitments seriously. 

I noticed the other day that another friend, Willie Lambert, was having a race in Topeka this Saturday.  I planned on attending a couple months ago but the date snuck up on me.  Willie is a great asset to the running community.  He has an awesome running store in Topeka, puts on great races, and hosted an aid station at the Hawk 50 race in May.  I want to support him.

Mike Goodwin of the Kansas Trails Council announced the other day that he'll be leading a work day at Clinton Lake's North Shore trails on Saturday.  Helping maintain the trails is extremely important to me.  I utilize them a lot and definitely feel like I need to give back by helping out.

My boyfriend has some serious back problems right now and has been unable to run for a month.  Even his ability to walk is seriously challenged.  This is extremely frustrating to him.  Like me, running is and has been a very important part of his life.  Heck, we met at a race.  I've had my share of experience watching from the sidelines.  When Nick and I first met, he was running his first ultra.  I was on my 2nd.  Soon after, I started grad school, and my training went to crap, while 6 months later Nick was running his first 100.  I was always the one crewing and cheering on my friends, and if I was lucky, doing a little pacing.  So I understand when Nick tells me that it's difficult for him to watch me go off running all the time while he sits at home.  I've been racking my brain to think of something fun we can do together.  But both of us being athletic types, it's hard to conjure up things that we would love to do, that he can do.  I want so badly to do something to make him feel better, but I just don't know what to do.

My dad turns 58 on Flag Day and Father's Day is next weekend.  We usually celebrate the two events at the same time.  Lucky dad!  So we're getting together to celebrate on Sunday.

Nick's mom is going to be in town for the next couple weeks.  She's staying with her cousin in KC for the first week, but I feel like we should do something with her since she's sort of in town.  I'm sure the last time we saw her wasn't one of her better days.  It was mother's day.  Nick was puking, threw out his back and was laid up in the back of her truck.  Meanwhile, Nick's mom, aunt, sister, brother and I waited outside a restaurant for 2 hours for a table so we could celebrate the day with some yummy brunch.  I forgot to mention I was puking too.  Then she drove us around while Nick and I bickered about whether or not we should be flying home that day.  She's a saint and is going to stay with us for a week while Nick recovers from his surgery.  You couldn't ask for a better person to take care of you.

Me?  Well, I'm training for Headlands 50, which is coming up on July 17th.  I signed up for that a long time ago, so I gotta make it happen.  I need a few more weeks of really solid training before I taper.  I really don't know how that's going to happen this weekend.  I also changed my registration for the Heartland 50, coming up in October, to the 100.  I have a lot of training ahead, which makes me feel like I'm being selfish, considering Nick's condition.  But the 100 training won't start until after Headlands and hopefully he'll be well on the mend from his surgery (next Friday) by then.

Soo my tentative plan so far is as much as I can tonight, show up for trail maintenance tomorrow, go home and spend time with my sweetie and maybe do something helpful like mow the lawn, and if I have time maybe run some more.  Run Sunday morning, go to massage, go to parents.  The rest of the gaps I'm sure will be filled in.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Long Day

I completed my first long run since the Hawk 50 yesterday.  I was to meet Levi and Nicole.  Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication and Nicole thought we were supposed to meet at the River Trail.  I should have made it clear that we were back at the lake after letting the trail dry out for a couple weeks after the race.  Boo me!

Well Levi and I ran together to Land's End (6.5mi) where he turned back to finish a 10 mile loop.  He had to get back home for some reason...I think his mother in-law was visiting.  I'm a good listener.  Maybe.     

We saw some interesting wildlife.  First we ran into a possum carrying around its babies.  If there's anything that can make a possum seem slightly less creepy, it's seeing one carry around her young.  Awwww.  Actually, it took a few moments to realize the bumps attached to the creature's back were babies.  At first glance it looked sort of like something you'd see lurking around outside the nuclear power plant in the Simpson's.  

I wouldn't have noticed the next little treasure but Levi caught my attention when he said something like "Whoa!" or "Ahhhh".  I turned back and asked him what was up.  He claimed I just ran over a snake but I hadn't noticed it.  When I went back to see what there was to see, there was indeed a baby snake.  Levi said it was a rattlesnake and I asked if we had rattlesnakes in Kansas.  He said he thought so, and it WAS shaking its little tail at us.  It looked pretty peeved.  We usually see copperheads and black snakes on the trail.  I'm not sure what the actual name for the black snakes is...maybe it actually is black snake.  I have no idea.  Long story short, we have lots of snakes and a good portion of them are poisonous.

I decided to stop for water at 9.5mi.  I walked up the stairs to the campground and the place was crawling with folks.  It wasn't much of a surprise with the half Iron Man going on the next day at the park.  The folks walking around were fit and many were wearing bike shorts.  Go figure.  With my pack full, I headed back to the trail to get to my 10 mile turn around.

I wanted to do an out and back on the white trail to avoid the muddier blue trail.  The blue trail is closer to the lake, hence lower on the slope to the shore.  It's always wetter than the white.  I also didn't want to find out by trial and error whether the shoulder deep water crossing on blue had gone all the way down over the past two weeks.  I needed to be done with my run by 12:30 so I could get ready to volunteer for Iron Man packet pickup at 1.

I started getting clumsy on the trip back.  A lot of things were happening.  It was getting hotter, I was getting tired, but I was trying to keep my speed up to get done with my run in time.  So I started kicking rocks.  It was frustrating.  I hit my toe HARD on a rock.  My first reaction was "ouch, but not big deal". My second reaction, about a second later, was "Oh crap!  That's the toe with the nail I messed up at the race!"  I told myself to calm down and started walking.  After a little walking and running I surmised that I didn't do any more damage to the toenail but I was pretty sure the end of my toe was bleeding.  There really wasn't anything I could do about it 9 miles from the trailhead so I kept going.  I had to change my running style a little.  I usually run on the front of my feet (not my heels) but I couldn't do it with my left foot.  

The pain faded a little over the next half hour or so, but the heat just kept increasing.  I kept myself cool by splashing water on my bandana and wiping my face and neck with it.  I did that until I felt like my water was getting low enough that I needed the rest of it for drinking.  I was pretty worried about the time I was making but I didn't pull out my phone to check it until I crossed the marina road about 2 miles out from the trailhead.  It was only 11:30.  I had plenty of time.  Knowing how much time I had, I slacked a bit on the last mile and did more walking than I should have.

I'd really like to get to the point where I can do my long runs (at least the 20 milers) at a 12 minute per mile pace at Clinton Lake, but I wasn't disappointed with 13.  I cleaned myself up in the water spigot at the picnic shelter since I didn't have time to drive home and back before our volunteer gig.  My toe looked pretty fabulous.  The top was bloody and on the inside I had a giant blister.  It's been a couple years since I've had a blister that big.  I didn't get any blisters running the 50, so it was pretty comical that I got one running 20 miles.

Eventually folks started showing up to meet for volunteer duty.  Nick brought me a sandwich since I didn't have time to go home and the 15ish of us drove into the park and headed to campground 3.  I've never volunteered at a BIG race and soon realized that packet pickup was much more complicated than packet stuffing.  Everybody has their unique little problems.  It didn't help that I was working the team and pro packet pickup which was located right next to the "Solutions" table, i.e. where people with problems go.  The cool thing was that I got to give packets to the pros.  I had no idea who any of them were, but I'm not a triathlete.  There was a lady from Australia wearing an awesome running skirt.  It was white and covered in rainbow-colored skulls.  I also handed a packet to bib number 1.  I know in road races that usually means the person has won before.  He asked me to trim the sharp edges off his wrist bracelet, which would have seemed pain-in-the-ass-y coming from a lot of people, but he asked nicely so I was happy to oblige.

I was definitely ready to get out of the sweltering heat by the end of our shift at 5.  I was happy to help our group earn a much needed $500, but I won't say it was fun.  I much prefer small, low-key events.  But I would do it again next year to help out the group.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hawk 50 Report

After Nick woke up at 4am to pack up his aid station supplies and head out to Clinton Lake, I couldn't fall back asleep.  I laid in bed for a while thinking about going back to sleep but in the end decided to get dressed and just go out there.  Upon my arrival at 5:20, co-RD Coleen Voeks chastised me for being there so early and told me to go sit down.  I did more roaming around and chatting with people than sitting, but Coleen was too busy to abuse me further.

After a while I decided to get my gear out of the car and change into my running shoes.  Not long after, as I reached into the pocket of my Melanzana, hoodie to retrieve my phone, I noticed that my key was no longer present.  I scoured the grounds around the shelter, retracing every step I made.  I looked through my car, thinking I had dropped it on the floor.  It was nowhere to be found.  I would normally be much more concerned about the key, but I was more nervous about the race than how I was going to get home.  I figured it would turn up somewhere.

I felt eager and nervous as I set out on the trail.  I navigated pretty easily through the muddy mile.  It warmed up quickly, and I removed my leopard print Moeben sleeves.  The gentleman running behind me, who I discovered was Shane, voiced his surprise upon realizing that I was not covered in tattoos.  Shane and I stuck together, averaging about a 12 minute/mile pace.  We hit our first aid station, Land's End, at 6.5mi.  Land's End is a small clearing where the white, blue and red trails intersect: a perfect place for Christy Craig's Irish-themed station, complete with a real life Irishman, Mr. David Higgins.  There were many other wonderful people there, including Renee Babin, Levi Bowles, Kristin Whitehair, and Beth Hilt.

I felt fresh going through this aid station so I grabbed a few bites to eat then Shane and I took off.  After mile 8 or so, the white trail gets pretty hilly so I started doing some walking.  I had more than 40mi to go and running every hill in the beginning would not pay off.  Around the time I reached Bunker Hill, a one mile out and back, I started thinking, "I am not ready for this."  I was starting to feel hot and tired.  I was starting to feel under trained, or more specifically, over-tapered.  It was too early in the race for me to feel tired!  Shane had gone on at the West Park Road aid station while I stopped for food and socializing.

I did the opposite of Coleen's most important piece of advice: to get from aid station to aid station, one at a time.  But all I could think about was the long road ahead and trying to figure out why the heck I was so tired only 11 miles into the race.  How could I possibly make it?  I dragged myself up and down Bunker Hill and through the Cactus Ridge section, alternating between running and walking.  I was getting clumsy, tripping on every available rock and root.  I didn't know what to do.  I had been taking salt, eating, drinking water.  I was beyond frustrated as I trotted into the Beach aid station headed up by my sweetie, Nick Lang with assistance from Erik Voeks, Colinda Thompson, Jeff Triplet and Elizabeth Hodges.  I really have to apologize for being so crabby when I went through.  I didn't stop long, but I think I managed a "thank you" or at least a "goodbye" before I left.

I gritted my teeth and set off to my next destination, another trip to Land's End.  Before reaching there, the course ran along the most technical part of the North Shore Trails, the red shoreline trail.  As the name suggests, it runs right up along the shoreline of the lake.  It's mostly made up of very large rocks, so it's challenging to run on when it's wet.  And wet it was.  We had received several days of rain leading up to the race, and the word was that there was a section of shoreline trail covered in 18" of water.  I wasn't particularly concerned until I reached the section of flooded trail.

Waves from the lake crashed up against the jagged rocks and I couldn't see the bottom.  As I said, the trail can be rather difficult to maneuver over even when you can see it.  I waited as a few waves passed and cautiously stepped in to what turned out to be waist deep water.  I attempted to gingerly walk a straight path across the maybe 20-ft flooded section.  I realized quickly I wouldn't be able to cut straight across as a wave approached and threatened to knock me off balance.  I sidled over to the rock ledge and huddled close to it as I made my way across.

I finally made it back to Land's End where my good friends took care of me.  Christy was such a big help the whole time.  She always told me I was doing awesome, even when I felt like crap and didn't believe her.  It made me feel better anyway.  Again, I was thinking about the rest of the race and didn't know if I could finish, but I decided I'd take it one aid station at a time.  Besides, I figured I should at least complete the second smaller loop so I could finish the marathon distance.

About a mile out from Land's End I reached the infamous BIG water crossing.  It's normally calf deep, but with the recent rain it was reportedly chest-high on the RD.  This meant it was above my shoulders.  Luckily, Gary and Tony strung a guide rope the night before to be an aid.  There was also a volunteer posted at the opposite side of the crossing to make sure everyone got through ok.  He warned me where the big log was under the water so I didn't nail my shins on it.

I was tired running the last few miles of the first loop.  This section is always pretty muddy, but I managed to keep running through most of it.  I passed a few guys who asked if they could tie a rope to me and hitch a ride.  I was pretty amused.

Literally about a tenth of a mile before you get to start/finish you have to turn off the blue trail and run a one mile out and back to a hill called Sander's Mound.  Wonderful views, but I hate running it.  I should mention that wiith the exception of trail and ultra running, I'm kind of an outdoors novice, so when I went through that deep water crossing, it didn't occur to me to remove my Nathan vest which contained my S!Caps and Honey Stinger Chews.  I did have a few unopened packages of chews as it turned out, but no salt. 

So when I got back to the start/finish aid station Julie took care of me.  She grabbed a few S!Caps from Greg Burger's drop bag for me.  Thanks Greg!  I really should have left a drop bag at the start/finish.  I did not foresee these issues, but in ultra running you have to plan for anything.

As I set out on the second and most dreaded loop, I felt a little sick to my stomach (both literally and figuratively).  The second loop was only 3 miles, which is sort of frustrating in the middle of a 50 mile race.  You feel like you're getting nowhere.  This section also happens to be the muddiest part of the course.  It was pretty disheartening.  As I passed the 1-mile mark and ran the short section of trail by the road, which is the one location on the course where white and blue trails are coincident, I stopped to ask Tammy and Kristin (who were directing runner traffic) if they had any food.  Tammy was awesome and gave me some of her apples.  As if it wasn't rough enough for them to hang out on the course all day by themselves, they gave me their own food!  I managed to get down a piece or two but my stomach wasn't liking it.  I walked for a while to let it settle down. 

I moved very slowly through this whole section.  When I got out to the road to turn back to complete the short loop, Amy Oglesbee offered me everything she could think of.  She had a mini aid station in the back of her car!  I think she probably had the worst gig of the whole day.  She was parked out on that road the whole time, by HERSELF.  I couldn't have done it.  I can definitely say that I'd rather be running 50 miles than sitting there all day.  Well, I bummed some ginger candy off Amy and eventually parted ways and headed back to the start/finish.  At least I didn't have to run Sander's Mound this time.

My stomach was feeling better by the time I got back to the start/finish aid station.  I walked over to my car to get some ibuprofen from my purse.  Turns out what I had in my purse was S!Caps not ibuprofen.  Well now I wouldn't run out of salt for sure but I still had no pain relief.  I would have to wait another 18 miles to get to my bag at Nick's beach aid station for relief.  Sooo, I kept going, after telling Julie that I didn't feel like going.  I should have picked up Nick's iPod Shuffle while I was grabbing stuff from my car, but I forgot.  Again.  I would have to finish the race with no distraction.

I just kept going going going for the next 6.5 miles until I made it back to the Land's End aid station.  I was pretty mentally fragile at this point.  I had convinced myself that there was no way I was going to finish under cut off, and to save the volunteers some time I should drop out.  I actually dropped down into a tornado-sheltering-like position and cried.  I told Christy I was feeling very lonely on the trail.  The field of runners was spread out, and thinned out since many people had dropped.  Christy said I couldn't quit.  I was the first female and only 3 guys were ahead of me.  Before I could argue, Renee said she was already dressed to run and they had me back on the trail.

It was wonderful having Renee along.  Even when we weren't talking, it was nice to hear her foot steps behind me and know that I wasn't lost in an alternate universe where I was the only person alive.  I was going pretty slow at this point.  I took a lot of walk breaks.  At one point, Renee informed me that we had traveled 3 miles in 50 minutes.  This wasn't the kind of stat I really wanted to hear, bless her heart, but at least it put things in perspective for me.  After banging my left toe on what it felt like was the 100th rock and still feeling lingering pain after 10 minutes, I realized this toe was not coming out unscathed.

I started counting aid stations to the finish.  Once we made it through West Park Rd, I only had 2 aid stations left.  I was looking forward to getting back to the beach where I could change into my New Balance WR790's which had more toe room than the WT100's I was wearing.  I was so glad to see Nick again.  I told him I needed to change my shoes and I needed ibuprofen and he had me sit right down and his chair and he worked my mud-caked shoes off my feet.  It immediately dawned on me that my toe problem wasn't really caused by my ultra lightweight shoes but was more due to me forgetting to cut my toenails the night before!  Ahhhhh.  I can't believe I forgot.  It was on my mental checklist, but I didn't write it down.  I only wrote down items I needed to pack, not things I needed to do.

Anyway, seeing Nick really lifted my spirits, and the fresh shoes and drugs helped my feet and legs.  I felt brand new leaving that aid station.  Well, as brand new as you can feel after 40-something miles and a messed up toenail.  I think I was back to a 12 minute per mile pace to my last visit to Land's End.  I was so excited to be visiting my last aid station!  I was prepared to run the rest of the way by myself, because Renee had already exceeded her longest distance run keeping me company.  But Levi was ready to pick up buddy duty.

Levi kept telling me that I was looking strong, not like someone running the last 5 miles of a 50 mile race.  This made me feel good.  Again, I didn't know if it was true or not, but the words were nice anyway!  I have the best running friends.  When we came to the big water crossing, we found Gary Henry (RD) on lifeguard duty.  Levi took my salt and food to keep it from getting wet since he's a lot taller than me and it was easier for him to keep his balance while walking through the water.  I was gripping the guide rope with both hands.  Gary was snapping shots while I crossed and forgot to warn me of the location of the giant log under the water.  I'm sure he captured an excellent shot of me cursing when I wacked my shin on it.  But I wouldn't hold a small shin-wacking grudge against my good friend, Gar.  I bet the picture was totally worth it.

Once we crossed, Gary told me I had about 3 miles to go.  I was totally psyched.  I tried to keep a good pace and run as much as I could, but we were getting back into the mucky section.  I had to walk a little now and then.  When we reached the road I saw that Debbie Webster was keeping Amy company.  Thank goodness for Amy!  Now, Debbie is my trail mom, so when I saw her for the first time since the start of the race, just 2 miles from the finish, we exchanged a good misty-eyed hug. 

Levi and I got back on our way and before we knew it we were on our way down (then up) to Sander's Mound.  For some reason, even though I was a mile from finishing, I was totally unmotivated to push myself up this hill.  Finally, on our way back up the trail Levi put down his foot and told me to run.  Yes sir!

When I got out of the trees and saw the finish line I was so excited, until I saw that they had strung pink flags around the open field where the finish line was.  So what would be a very short direct trip to the finish was stretched out into a big roundabout circle to the finish line.  I wanted to strangle the person who decided to do this (probably Mr. Henry).  I might have actually cursed (something along the lines of "Are you f-ing kidding me?!") when I saw what I had to do, but I was so happy when I crossed the finish line I forgot all about strangling people! 

Nick was waiting at the finish line for me, and I think I must have hugged him for a solid minute.  Tony Clark congratulated me on being 4th overall and 1st female.  Even though only 9 people ended up finishing the race, I'm still pretty proud of my finish.  I was pretty psyched to have finished under the official cut-off in 12 hours and 47 minutes.  I really wanted to finish in 12 hours but considering the conditions, I was overjoyed with my sub 13 time.  I should mention that I didn't cry when I finished as I expected, but I think it was because Debbie "Trail Mom" Webster and co-RD Coleen Voeks weren't there.  They are probably the two most influential women in my life: Debbie for being the sweetest person I know, and Coleen for being the toughest, most badass chick I know.

So here goes my list of Thank You's: Gary Henry, Coleen Voeks, Kristin Tirabassi, Tammy Lupton, Christy Craig, Renee Babin, Levi Bowles, Beth Hilt, Kristin Whitehair, Darin Schneidewind, Willie Lambert, MK Thompson, Nick Lang, Erik Voeks, Jeff Triplet, Elizabeth Hodges, Colinda Thompson, Darcy Schneidewind, Julie Toft, Vicki Holmes, Tony Clark, James Barker, Karen Henry, Amy Oglesbee, Karen Collier, and I think I'm forgetting a million other people. 

Mac McSpadden, who had just completed her first marathon a few hours earlier actually helped clean the mud off me when I finished!  Double duty for her. 

Liz and Felix Smith left me a wonderful post race gift complete with socks, foot cream and silly putty!  All post race essentials. 

Sarah Henning was an excellent 50 mile training buddy, even before we decided to run the 50.  I know she was bummed about not being able to run the race, but I know I'll get another chance to kick some butt with her.  Also, she gives great post race hugs!

I love you Trail Hawks, friends, trail runners, ultra runners, Lawrencians.  What a great community to be a part of.