Friday, December 5, 2014

Ashenfelter 8k, Glen Ridge NJ, 11/27/14

I wasn't sure if I even would be able to attend this race. I knew I actually did not want to. I have a lot of things going on at home that have shifted my focus from running. What? Yes, it is true.  Right now, I still run every day, but running high mileage is not happening.

On October 27, Sidney and I decided to pulled a dog, we named her Piper, from a list of shelter dogs scheduled to be euthanized within the next week or so. She was the first dog on the list that had no donations pledged to help with her rescue costs meaning she was more likely to not be rescued. We knew Enzo has a real problem with dogs he meets in parks, but he had become much more relaxed (for him) around some dogs familiar to him.  We thought we had a chance to save a new pup and give her a good life.  I had been encouraged by many people who claim to have experience with dogs. I was told that dogs treat dogs that are part of the family differently than dogs that are not part of the family. I was told that it often starts of challenging but then the dogs find a way to be ok. I was told Enzo needs time around a dogs daily to come around and this can work.  Sid is planning to home often for weeks and this was the only time we would have with almost 24 hour supervision so this was the time to try to get a second dog.

The last month has been one of the most stressful experiences of my life and I have been through some very stressful experiences.  Enzo is not accepting of her inside the house.  He will tolerate her on a walk.  Inside the house he is not happy and will get snappy with her. The constant tension in our home is oppressive. We have dedicated any time we can spare from other things to work the dogs together and separately or rotate the dogs so that neither is isolated too long.  Not only was Enzo completely unreceptive to a new housemate, it turned out that Piper initially was unfriendly and aggressive, at times, towards people. Piper spent her first 5 days, in her bedroom, trying to be curious about us, but then growling and sometimes snapping at us for doing things like offering her food or toys, for touching her, trying to clip the leash on her to walk her, for looking at her, for talking to her.  Enzo would go crazy if he caught a glimpse of her through the gate, lunging and barking relentlessly and trying to get at her. He was not redirectable. So I had one dog that wanted to bite me whenever I looked at her… and another dog that wanted bite her just for being present.  This is hard.

It took 5 days of simply sitting in the same room as Piper, waiting for her to come to me when she was ready. Piper was terrified of any sounds related to daily life. Typing on my phone or computer scared her, the heat being blowing from the vents scared her.  Showers, toilets flushing, the dishwasher, opening doors, etc… all scared her.  Enzo looked sick and withdrawn.  He spent little time with me choosing to retreat to the basement or stay outside. He was louder and more obnoxious at the park when we did run with him.  When together, Sid and I split up and I spent more time with Piper, trying to teach her a language to use, and basic manners for living inside a house.  Sid kept Enzo company and made sure he felt loved.  For the first 5 days, I was so incredibly stressed I lost 5 lbs.  But then she turn a corner and suddenly realized that we were good people and she was safe with us. Now I have no fear at all that she will snap at me and she is no longer nervous around people at all. I can take food from her mouth if I need to, pick her up, handle her, train her, play with her, nap with her… She is a great dog.

Today it has been over 3 weeks since we picked up Piper on 11/14 after she was pulled and boarded at a Vet's where she was spayed and treated for other conditions like heart worms. Enzo and Piper still cannot be in the same room.  I am not actually sure it is possible for Enzo to accept her more than this ever. We are still trying to help them along with very systematic methods of behavior modification (classical, operant, counter conditioning, systematic desensitization, etc… we have pheromone diffusers in the house, we allow them together until Enzo can't deal with it.  The time is getting long that they are together.  We are now up to 30 minutes, on leashes, in the house, which a huge improvement from where they started.  However, this is not going to work long term.  We are speaking with Vets, Trainers, etc, to get expert advice on whether this is ever likely to work.  We were told to give this more time.  At some point we will have to realize that Piper and Enzo will be better off NOT living together unless Enzo proves otherwise.  This is the most heartbreaking situation I have experience. No one in our house is happy, except the dogs when they are not together. There is nothing to suggest that this is going to get any better right now.  Many people are rooting for Piper and Enzo to get along and work it out.  The reality here is that we are going to have to decide how long we live in this situation.  My heart is broken.

I showed up at the A8k only because I needed to the race to improve my USA-TF Grand Prix score card.  To have a chance to move up in the standing I needed to better one of my Category II 700 pt scores.  The person who I was in most direct competition with was Aya.  Aya has had the most amazing year.  I have been watching her results on Facebook and in person at races. Week after week she has been getting faster and faster.  I have had a great set of races myself this year but I have not raced as much as Aya. She was getting faster and I was getting distracted and distressed. I really wasn't sure whether I could hold her off any more.

The fact that I have hardly been training really made feel very insecure. I felt exhausted and run down. I had lost weight and it was likely muscle and hydration.  I was not eating well.  So of the three things that all athletes need to do to optimize performance (eat well, sleep well, and train well), I was doing None well. I was really worried that this 8k would be one of the worst runs I have had in a long time.

I left the house later than I should. I drove around way too long to find parking. I collected my bib and T-shirt. I left the shirt on they gym floor with my Clifton Team's stuff, used the bathroom, and lined up. I didn't have a chance to warm up and I didn't really care.

I just wanted this to be over so I could rush home and then go to work.  It was Thanksgiving and even thought I didn't HAVE to work, I try to go in because not many people can get there.  I am a therapist on an inpatient psychiatric unit when I am not coaching, training, or racing.  Usually the patients who are in a psych hospital on a major holiday are the most in need of attention. It did not surprise me to find that during normal visiting hours 0 visitors were present.  The patients were actually happy to see me, which is not always the case.

I line up where it seems like I would be close to the start, but this is a large race and many people filed in in front of me. It took about 10 seconds for me to cross the starting line.  The first mile was crowded and I felt like I was often stuck behind groups of people.  I do my best to get a good start. M 6:41

During the second mile, Jim O. is just a bit behind me. I catch a glimpse of Aya creeping up on me in my peripheral.  Jim, being a lover of the sport, my teammate, and the person who encouraged me to attend this race by reminding that I needed this race to have a shot to move up the standings, notices Aya making a move.  I hear him say something like "On Your Left, Shannon" and Aya was right there.  I like Aya. As she cruises up next to me, we can still see her husband and I tell her… "Ok, we have 3 miles to catch Karl. I think we can do it." I really hoped we could push each other to do just that.  Karl had different plans.  M2 6:46

As we hit a descent, I decide I need to push a little to see if I can pull away from Aya. I feel like I am already fighting way too hard at this point, but I have to keep trying until I can't lift my legs. Everything hurts.  I can actually feel a side-stitch, something I have not felt in years.  I get a little distance on Aya and all I need to do is hold it… for the next few miles.  LOL!   I try to not look back to see where she is, but for the remainder of the race she was my only concern.  I could hear her breathing behind me the entire way so I knew she was always right there on my heels.  M3 6:45

For the next two miles, in my mind, no one else was there in the race with us. I love races like this. I know the course. I have it run this race many times. There was a hill coming up about 4.5 miles after the gradual incline from 3.5 to 4.5. I settled in during mile this section so that I could finish stronger.  I was over dressed so during this mile I threw my gloves and my top layer T-shirt on the ground next to a sign so I could remember where they fell.  M4 6:50

I was able to get up that final hill and dig for a small kick on the way in.  I was working as hard as I could to stay steady.  I was suffering more than I have suffered in a race in along time. I knew all of this was related to my falling off training while I try to bring peace back to my home.  I could hear Aya reeling me in and I was very aware of what I needed to do to hold my position. A nearby runner decides to take me under his wing. I appreciate his encouragement, but I really didn't need to run the last .3 miles with someone telling me I needed to try harder.  I utter between breaths, "You go on ahead... don't worry about me...  I'm ok," but he just kept next to me, telling me to try harder.  I had already felt a twinge in my calf and was concerned I might pull something if I forced a kick I had not prepared my body to sustain. I was running as fast as I felt I could sustain safely.  I tried to focus on listening for Aya and doing what I needed to do to hold off her.  Last. 97  6:35.

I finish. I thank that guy who did attempt to help me and then allowed me to cross the line before him.  I turned around and saw Aya right behind me. 2 seconds behind me.  I truly felt like Aya and I were a great team out there. We really ran our butts off!  I tell her, next year, we need to work together to run even faster than we can run trying to race each other! :)  She pointed out that next year we will actually be in different age groups so we wouldn't even need to be racing head to head any more!

As I went to pick up my shirt and gloves, a little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, her father and her dog were walking by.  She asked me "Are you finished running?" I said, "Oh, Yes I am!"  She asked, "How far did you run today?" I said "Oh boy… Today I ran too far!"  She then asked, "If you had to run Too Far today, how do you know when you are done?"

I laughed and told her she was a very smart girl.  I explained "Well, I felt like I was done running at  mile 4, but I still had more to run until I got to the finish line where I could stop." Then, I asked her "Did you run today too?"  She laughed and said "Oh No Way!"  I told her she should run the One Mile next year.  He father looked at me like I was crazy.  She then shared that that she was really really excited to get home because a lot of people were coming over to have turkey at her house.  I told her to have a great day. I then walked across the street to see the results, hurried to get home to check on the Sidney and the dogs and then I rushed off to work.

Time: 33:46
Place 18th Female

Monday, November 3, 2014

Keep it Simple to Perform your Best: Using Sugar As Fuel.

I will be submitting articles to my Running Club for our monthly newsletter. If you reside in New Jersey and would like to become a member of Clifton Road Runners, please visit this website for more information on how to join: 

Here is a copy of the most recent article:

Keep it Simple to Perform your Best: Using Sugar As Fuel. 
by Shannon McGinn, RRCA Certified Distance Coach
October 2014

Recently I have noticed a lot of talk in the endurance world about the best way to fuel for the long haul. Runners are turning to low-carbohydrate diets and reporting excellent results. Most of these reports come from those following a Paleo diet plan. Simple sugars are being categorized as “bad” and if carbohydrates are used at all, more complex carbohydrates are being touted as the best way to fuel. 

There is some support from professionals who conclude that once a person has become fat-adapted, meaning they have trained their bodies to burn fat instead of glucose for energy, they will then be able to perform better in ultra-endurance events, such as those lasting over 5 hours. However, this goes against the long standing position that carbohydrates are required to fuel the body.  We need to remember that correlation does not imply causation. For example, in most cases a low-carb diet leads to significant weight loss and we know that simply dropping weight will automatically result in faster running. Therefore, I am not yet convinced that  low-carb is the way to go for sustainable training and optimal race day performances. 

Despite the newest theories about the body not needing carbohydrates for fuel, the American College of Sports Medicine continues to take the position that carbohydrates are required to maintain blood glucose levels during exercise and replace muscle glycogen. In my experience, simple carbohydrates fuel me best, even when my events last over 5 hours. I find the strain and distress on the body required to become fat-adapted to be extremely unpleasant and potentially unhealthy. If you want to keep things simple, you may find simple carbohydrates to be your best source of fuel as well. 

There are two main types of carbohydrates, complex and simple carbohydrates. Both types are made from sugar. Complex Carbohydrates are starch and fiber and made up of many molecules of sugar connected in chains. These chains must be broken down into single molecules of sugar to be used as energy. Simple Carbohydrates, often called simple sugars, are made of up of one or two molecules of sugar. As a result, it takes very little effort to use simple sugar as energy  Based upon my experience running close to 300 races and over 110 miles in one day, I have learned that simple carbohydrates are my ideal source of fuel when training my hardest, racing my fastest, or trying to endure. 

Keep in mind that there is a difference between what we should eat in daily life versus what we should be consuming as “fuel” during an endurance event.  In daily life, is it not a good idea to consume large amounts of simple sugar. Because very few nutrients come along with most simple sugars, our consumption of simple sugars should be limited. Simple sugars are often significantly abused, being consumed in unhealthy amounts when not needed. When too much sugar is consumed, what is not used is stored as fat.  Abuse of simple sugars often leads to serious health issues.

But during exercise, while the body is working hard, simple sugars have been proven to be an incredibly fast digesting fuel source, especially when compared to complex carbohydrates, protein, and fat. During a race, I seek out fast digesting sugar from densely caloric sources in the form of things I would never consume in day-to-day life. During a race, I consume simple sugars in small amounts along the way because they are so powerful. For example, in addition to what I take before a race, I will take one gel every 9-12 miles along with about 2-3 ounces of sports drink or soda per aid station, if available. Overloading my system with too much sugar can cause stomach upset and negative results. I consume what I can to burn, thus eliminating the concern that eating sugars during a race will result in longstanding health issues. 

How much sugar is enough? It is often recommended that endurance athletes attempt to consume 60-90 grams per hour (i.e. 240-360 calories per hour) to perform their best. I find this amount to be quite high and difficult for many to achieve. In my work with athletes, I find that newer runners tend to not consume any or nearly enough calories while training. Although we can get away with less fuel during our slower training runs, and in some cases depletion train on purpose, we should also practice how to fuel properly for a high intensity race. 

To practice proper race-day fueling, first do not plan to consume a large amount of sugar all at once. Instead plan to spread out your sugar consumption over the duration of your run. Consider initially increasing your consumption of carbohydrates to 100 calories per hour by simply taking one gel per hour. Over time, try to add more sources of carbohydrates, such as one gel per half hour or alternate with sports drink, to help get your carbohydrate intake as close to the recommended amount as you can tolerate. Keep in mind that your pre-run fuel also counts towards this total, so take a gel or two right before you start.  

You do not need to use only gel. Any simply sugar can work if you are able to consume it on the run. To identify what products contain simple sugar, when reading an ingredient list look for fructose, glucose, monosaccharides, lactose, maltose, and sucrose. Simple sugars may also be listed as raw sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, molasses, maple syrup, sugar cane syrup, cane juice, invert sugar, malt syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. Simple sugars are naturally found in fruits, milk, and other dairy products.  

I spent years trying alternative, natural, and/or “healthier” fuel sources. I have found that complex carbohydrates take too long to digest or upset my stomach. Too much fructose alone is known to cause stomach upset and did so for me. But fructose along with other sugars is a great combination. Honey is a special case and has very positive results if you can find a way to carry it. 

Ultimately, those gel packets that I disliked at first have become my first choice in fueling for races of 90 minutes through a marathon. The are lightweight, densely packed with calories, easy to carry, and fast to digest. Gels along with race supplied sports drink gives me just what I need to stay well-fueled. 

In ultras, I find that I cannot always tolerate gels for the longer time on my feet.  Therefore, some other sources of fast sugar that I turn to during an ultra will include Coca Cola and Mountain Dew. If fruit is available, I always take it. As a rule, I never turn down the soda and I never turn down fruit, especially if it is any type of melon or orange slices. My best races have always been fueled on a combination of fruit (fructose) + sugar (glucose). 

When running a very very long time, highly sweet fuel sources eventually become intolerable. When this happens, I will turn to more complex carb sources that fall on the salty side of the palate. When racing for more than 10 hours, my body also needs some of the other macronutrients (fat and protein) it would normally receive during daily life. Solids foods will take longer to digest, but when races last a very long time and the pace is slower, small amounts of solid food will help settle my stomach and will ultimately become useful energy sources as well.  

To learn more about the role of simple carbohydrates as a source of fuel, here is an article about sugar for endurance athletes.

The take away:  
(1) A mixture of Fructose and Glucose is ideal for many runners.  
  1. Do not overload yourself with sugar in large doses. Spread out your fuel consumption out along the way.
  2. Aim to consume up to 60-90g of carbohydrate/hour. Start with an amount you can tolerate and work on consuming more per hour during your training cycle.

It is my opinion that fueling does not need to be very complicated. I try to fuel in a way that does not force my body to work any harder than it has to. Simple sugars are fast and easy to break down. If taken in small amounts along the way, with an effort to meet the recommended 60-90 grams per hour, I find that I am using what I consume and this makes simple sugar my ideal source of fuel. 
Shannon McGinn is an RRCA Certified Distance Running Coach and the owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is a life-long runner, becoming more involved in racing after surviving cancer.  She considers herself a marathon and ultramarathon specialist, earning several USATF National Championship top 10 or better placements in the 50k and 50M distances. She has not missed a day of running since December 2011.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

USATF-NJ Open and Master 8K XC Team Championship, Natirar Park, Peapack NJ 10/26

Thank you Mark Nyhan for sharing your Race Photos :)
I was not planning to run this race, but Anthony let me know that the more teams we enter the more points our team scores. I am still not sure I fully understand this, but if just showing up and getting through the course would help the team then I wanted to do it.  The race was only $15, so that made it an easy decision to give it shot.

Ben also went out of his way to make sure I had a team singlet.  This is quite the joke since I don't actually wear singlet often in races.  But I wanted to have one for team photos.
Thank you Ben!

I ran a 50 miler last weekend. I needed to make sure I could actually run the race injury free.  If anything was hurting me, I would not run.  I would not even walk.  It makes no sense to not heal if I am hurting.  But I was lucky, nothing hurt so I decided to run.

I wanted also wanted Anthony know that I didn't anticipate running my best time.  Not that I thought he thought I would. I just felt better knowing that he knew I was going to be sluggish.  I told him he could expect me to come in somewhere between 35-40 minutes. I am so glad I was able to do that.

This was a new XC course for the Championship 8k. I really like this course.  Natirar park is very pretty and the course is very challenging.  The course is, for the most part, a two loops course with two major hills per loop.

My legs were exhausted from the gun and running through the grass felt like quick sand.  As we reached the hills, I could immediately feel how tired my climbing muscle still are even though it has been 7 days of recovery.  It didn't help that it was also incredibly windy.

I think the entire race was a slow fade in pace that I simply could not control.  I tried to dig on the uphills to not lose too much ground, but I just felt like my body could not move any faster. I hoped to be able to open up my stride in the downhills but I just didn't have much speed there when I needed it.

I simply relaxed, recognized I was not fully recovered and had as much fun as I could running along side some very nice people.

At the end of the second loop, I was so very happy to learn we did not have to complete the entire loop, but were directed through the field to the finish.  I was ready to be done.  Once I looked at my Garmin, I was surprise to see it measured almost a tenth short.  Now this could be due to the rolling terrain, the Garmin losing signals in the woodsy parts, or the course was measure short.  

Overall, I don't think I did too bad of job. The course was slower than road. The hills were tough on my body and the wind made it more challenging than it needed to be.  Many runners who I usually can run alongside beat me, but it wasn't too bad.  But I was glad to be a part of a team race and hoped my presence helped.

M1 7:10,
M2 7:28,
M3 7:34,
M4 7:40,
Last .87  6:03

Time: 35:58
Place:  130
Gender place: 20

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile, State College, PA. 10/19/14

It was 6:30 am.  It was in the mid-30.  And it was raining. I refused to accept this. As I sat there watching the light rain collect on my windshield, I pulled out my iPad to re-check the weather. According to, I was assured it was absolutely NOT raining outside my car.  I contemplated how to best handle starting a 50 mile race in the rain when not using a drop bag, (so I had no chance of changing into dry clothes). Then Mother Nature decided to stop playing around.  At 6:45 am, the rain stopped. It was damp and chilly, but it was dry and ultimately a perfect day!

Too Close to Steamtown. Tussey Mountainback was a last minute decision for me. Steamtown Marathon, last weekend was my goal race for the Fall. When I run a fast marathon, I can feel it in my legs the following weekend. I wasn’t sure it was a smart decision to go out to State College, PA knowing I would not be 100%.  However about a month ago, I finally decided to commit to Tussey and just planned to run my best.  

Why this race should be on everyone’s To Do list:  If you can’t run 50 miles on your own in 12 hours, then get a relay team together and experience this course.  It is the friendliest 50 miler I have ever done.  

First, it is really a great beginner 50, because the footing is primarily dirt or gravel roads eliminating the concern about twisting ankles or falling down in the middle of the woods.  Yet the course is almost entirely inside the shaded wood.  It is really the best of road and trail racing combined. 

Second, the Aid is plentiful. Because the Relay is divided into 12 legs, each leg is book-ended with fully stocked Aid Stations.  It is absolutely possible to run this race without carrying anything, except a small bottle.  I carried a 10 oz bottle and 4 gels and used the available aid so that all my needs were met. If you are concerned about racing one full 50 mile loop, you can use drop bags on the course.

Third, the course is well marked with Mile Markers the entire way and signs telling you when you are 1/2 mile from the aid station.  There are Blue Arrows on the course and flour on the ground to keep runners on track.  This was clearly not enough to keep me on track but it was largely bad timing and distracted attention that caused me to miss a turn. 

Photo that truly depicts the beauty of this course, but I did not take it. I found this photo here:

Fourth, the course is not easy, but it is not truly hard either. We journey up and down very hilly wooded terrain in the beautiful autumn. At times I caught myself exclaiming out loud, “Oh Wow, This is so beautiful!”  When faced with a very difficult uphill leg, there is always consolation in knowing that a long invigorating downhill leg will follow.  The last leg returns to pavement and can be quite fast. You will likely not run as fast in the last 4 miles of a 50 miler anywhere else.    

Finally, because the relay starts after the ultrarunners, the spectator support ultra runners get is more than I have experienced at any other 50 miler.  As the relayers and their car support crews catch up and pass the ultrarunners, almost every team calls out “Go Ultra!” to all of us wearing Orange Bibs.  One con is that it can be a bit unnerving at times when the drivers of those cars try to pass runners too quickly as sometimes gravel does shoot up from the tires.  I never got hit by any, but I was often worried I could be.  So if you find yourself driving this course, please make an effort to pass runners as slowly as possible. 

This elevation chart is awesome. Do not let it intimidate you. It is not as bad as it looks when all squished together like this.  As long as you understand you will be running a hilly course, you will be just fine. 

Important Tip: Memorize The Uphill Legs. I committed the uphill leg numbers to memory (1,4,6,9,11) so I would know when the suffering would end. I knew 6 and 11 would be the worst. This course is either Up or Down, nothing flat. If you pay close attention, those number tell a great story about why this course is so much fun.  Out of 12 legs, 5 are uphill, and 7 are down. In addition, 3 of the uphill legs are completed by the half way point, meaning the second half has more descent that the first half.  This is really great for morale!

Start: 7:00am.

Leg #1 - 3.2 Miles, Uphill. 

The race starts in the dark. I was able to meet Anne and Bob just after the rain stopped and right before the start.  Anne and I ran a few minutes side-by-side.  I must have bumped into her 3 times. A few people had flashlights or headlamps, but it really isn’t needed. There was a little uneven pavement at the start and care should be taken in the dark. But, if I had no trouble remaining upright, most people will be good.  By 7:15 am the sun was rising and no lamps were needed.  Just before we reach M1, the climbing has already begun. I didn’t feel compelled to walk, but I am sure some others may have decided to as we all made our way to the first transition point/aid station

Leg#2 - 4.0 Miles - Easy, Downhill 
The support at the Aid Station is so positive and welcomed. It helps to pull you up the hill when people at the top are already asking you what you need.  I never linger too long at Aid. In fact, I try to rarely stop moving for more than a few seconds whenever possible.  I grab nothing at this stop because it was early.  Just when starting to worry that my legs are too tired for this, we start the 4 miles of descent. It is such a blessing to run effortlessly for over 30 minutes.  
M4 - 8:49
M5 - 8:28
M6 - 8:20
M7 - 8:06

Leg #3 - 3.8 Miles - Mostly Flat or Declining
This leg would be the flattest of the race and still contained a little downhill. Once into Whipple Park we would start the uphill.  My biggest concern was that my fingers were still very very cold.  I felt like the air was getting colder.  I needed to blow into my hands, that were wrapped in my long sleeve tech shirt to try to warm up my fingers.   It was also at this point that I realized that I had either leaned up a little since last fall (when I last raced in capri pants) or the lyrca had simply given up on me.  I spent the rest of the race constantly pulling up my pants!  LOL  It would probably help for me to remember to wear pant with the drawstring still in place next time! 
M8 - 8:47
M9 - 8:43
M10 - 8:47
M11 - 8:55

Let #4 - 5.6 Miles - Long Uphills Start during this leg.
In addition to taking a small cup of Coke which I try to do whenever offered, I grabbed a chunk of banana from the Aid Station. I took a Gel and a little packet of iodized salt to help me prepare.  I met Casey on this leg and asked him to join me.  I could see he was settling down in his pace.  I asked him if he knew the course, because I felt it was too soon to slow down unless you needed to, especially if you knew leg 4 had a more significant incline to come where walk breaks were likely best utilized.  We joined forces and traveled almost two legs together. 
M12 - 8:13
M13 - 8:27
M14 - 9:07
M15 -11:51 The Steepest Part of this leg.
M16 - 9:02

Leg #5 -3.4 Miles- Refreshing Descent 

I really felt that Leg 4's climbing was significant. I started to wonder if the course was different and somehow the longest steepest leg had come early. I questioned my course knowledge only because I had heard from Anne that the RD mentioned rerouting part of the course due to two bridges being out.  I asked a woman at the Aid Station if this leg had the worst of the climbing or was leg 6 the leg with the very long uphill?  She confirmed that leg 6 was worse than 4.  I grabbed some Coke, a few potato chips, filled my bottle with water and was on my way.  The descent of this leg was again refreshing and helping me to mentally prepare for what would be a tough section.
M17 - 9:57
M18 - 8:06
M19 - 8:42 (I took another Gel and some more iodized salt here)
M20 - 8:23
Leg #6 - 4.1 Miles of The LONGEST INCLINE (About 8% incline for almost the entire way) 
I knew this section would be slow.  It was all uphill for miles.  There is real no breaks. Just uphill.  I could feel my hip flexor getting very irritated whenever I attempted to run uphill.  The tightness was moving into my groin. I was still tired from Steamtown and not 100% ready to run hard.  I made a decision to hike this leg as fast as I could and anywhere I could run without feeling like I was doing damage  I ran.  I had 0% pain when hiking so I felt confident that if I took care of my body I could have a great run, despite planning to walk any hills that were so steep they caused irritation.
M21 - 12:32
M22 - 13:42
M23 - 16:16
M24 - 9:44 Flurries at highest point in the race!

Leg #7 - 3.7 Miles Downhill
I was thrilled to see the faintest evidence of snow flurries at the top of the course. I am not a fan of snow, but it is hard to not feel uplifted when flurries start! Mile 24 is the high point of the race so it makes sense to see the flurries here.  I asked a few others around me if they noticed them too. A few were paying close enough attention and as thrilled as me.  One man said, "I see them too. You are not Hallucinating" which made me laugh since this can be a real problem for ultra runners in longer ultras.  I was so very happy to reach the halfway point, feeling amazing considering I had been running 4 hours.  I felt that I could actually have a shot at negative splitting this race if I could get through the last two hilly legs well.  But I also knew that leg 11 has the steepest climb, but it is short. 
M25 - 8:26 (4:02 at half way)
M26 - 7:58 (4:12 Marathon Split)
M27 - 9:27
M28 - 8:48

Leg#8 - 4.3 Miles more of Descent!
The reward for climbing leg 6 is two full descending legs.  It is such a wonderful feeling to have gravity on your side so late in the race.  I was once again humming and whistling to myself.  I reminded myself to take my third gel at this point and to enjoy the fast pace. 
M29 - 8:41
M30 - 8:43
M31 - 8:39 (4:56 50k split)
M32 - 7:51
M33 - 9:52

Leg#9 - 2.9 Miles  Short Ascent
At this point I was resigned to walking anything up. I did so guilt free and knowing that it was the best decision I could make.  Each time I walked, runners would pull ahead.  But I was so fresh by the top of each ascent that I made up ground on the downhill, often passing and not seeing those runners again, until I messed up.  
M34 - 13:36
M35 - 11:41
M36 - 12:14 

Leg#10 -5.5 Miles Downhill, but first a detour.

Leg 10 was supposed to a downhill leg.  I grabbed a cup of small diced potatoes from the aid station and tried to reorganized myself. I noticed a blue arrow and I was moving in that direction so I focused my attention on my race vest.  I wanted to eat, drink, and take some more salt before I started running hard again.  As I moved along, I reached  an intersection, that was not marked.  This was odd. To have several options and no markings is a bad sign. I looked back for markers and did not see any.  There was a road going uphill that I passed. I could have taken it uphill, but I knew this leg was downhill and I did not notice a marker when I looked that way.  And to be honest, I really did not want to have to go up again.  I recalled the last marker I saw pointing straight ahead.  I convinced myself that if I was suppose to turn there would be an arrow telling me to turn.  It was downhill.  It also passed a campground which I distinctly remembered from last year.  Yet, I still did not feel confident that I was going the right way.  I saw no one ahead of me but we were spaced out far at that point.  I looked back and saw someone behind me.  He was not frantically yelling for me to come back, so that was a good sign.  I was only off course for a few minutes when I finally saw the Bridge Out sign.  Oh No!

I turned back and met the guy, Brendan, behind me.  I told him we had gone the wrong way.  Then I spewed out a string of profanities. I asked if he saw any markers.  He reported that he had not noticed any that said he should have turned or he would have, but he also said he was simply following me.  Ugh.  So we hiked back up the hill back towards the last aid station, which was only .5 miles away.  This was not a devastating mis-step, but it took the wind out of my sails.  

I noticed some flour in the road that the cars had driven over and dispersed. I am certain that was once an arrow demarcating the almost 180 degree turn we needed to take in order to head UP the hill that I did not want to run when I had looked back minutes before.  As I got closer, there was, in fact, an arrow on a tree.  However from my angle earlier when I looked back, it was blocked by branches.   

Had I just kept my head up when dealing with my vest and my potatoes, and my drink, and my gel, and my salt after that aid station, I would have likely seen the blue arrow… but I missed it and added a mile to my journey, as well as Brendan's. 

Once back on track, I notice a woman close behind. Come On! I did not want to lose a position because I was not paying attention. I asked Brendan to hurry up with me.  We cruised the descent together at a strong pace while I cursed myself and apologized to him simultaneously.  He was nice and really managed to get me to refocus.  He shared that this was his first 50 miler.  I was really impressed with him.  I focused my energy on trying to help him stay positive rather than have him listen to me rant.  I could see that he was struggling a little more than he wanted to let on, as I caught him wince a little or ask me when the next uphill section would be, since I promised him we could walk there. He stayed with me to the next Aid Station and decided to let me go on while he slowed just a bit.  It was not much as he finished only few minutes behind me.

M37 - 14:16 * bonus mile
M38 - 8:02 (noticing woman behind me)
M39 - 8:10 
M40 - 8:27
M41 - 8:51
M42 - 9:22

Leg#11- 5.3 Miles Uphill with the Steepest climb of the race.
Even after an entire downhill leg which I thought I ran quite well, this woman was still behind me. She was very strong!  At the same time I felt both (1) that we were almost done and I could hold her off as well as (2) that we had along way to go and I might get caught.  I knew I could not let up on the inclines now if I wanted to hold my position.  Even with hip irritation, I worked the uphills to the best of my ability.  I tried to make sure that whenever I was in her line of sight I was running even if the course was uphill. I admit I must have looked back a million times, to try to gauge what was happening.  I could see that I was putting distance on her on the climb and that helped me feel more confident.  I needed to get to the Steepest point of the course out of her range since I knew I would need to walk that very steep ascent.  If I could finish this leg ahead of her, I was sure I could run a fast enough pace in the last 4 miles to hold whatever position I was in.   
M43 - 10:00
M44 - 10:49
M45 - 10:29
M46 - 13:46 Steepest point (About an 11% grade for .5 miles)

Leg#12- 4.2 Miles Downhill to the Finish
This entire race I was focused on just getting to this aid station. I convinced myself that since the last 4.2 miles were downhill, those last 4 would feel great.  Well, even downhill miles can be exhausting on tired legs. I saw Bob at the Aid Station and blabbered something at him about how I made a wrong turn, as it was still bothering me.  One extra mile felt so long at this point.  I grabbed more Coke and took off.  The last 2 miles are truly the fastest part of this leg, but first we need to go back uphill a bit to crest the last little peak before starting to wind our way down.  I was so glad to be finishing this race.  I knew I was going to run a faster time than last year, too, despite the Bonus mile.  
M47 - 10:02
M48 - 9:27
M49 - 8:49
M50 - 9:04
M51 - 8:03 (kicking it in to the finish!) 

Unofficial Distance: 51.98
Time: 8:18:50
OA Place 13th
Gender 5th

Final Thoughts - Shoes:  I opted to wear the Brook ST5 Racers and I am 100% satisfied that I made a great choice.  My feet did not hurt at all by the end of the race.  I had no blisters. I had no hot spots.  I am convinced that the stability posting and the 12mm drop in these shoes are just what I need to keep my recurring Plantar Fascitis in check.  I believe I supinate when I run, but I have a feeling that over the long haul all bets are off.  In the past I had always felt it made little sense for me to use a stability shoe when I am not an overpronator.  Yet,  so far the ST5's have proven me wrong.  Just a note about sponsorship - I am no longer accepting the Brooks ID Sponsorship and no longer contractually obligated to wear only Brooks. I turned down the Coach's Sponsorship offer so that Brooks could offer it to the Track and Field ad XC Coaches they were targeting, and so I could have the freedom back in my life to try other products without violating a contract.  Therefore, I share this information about these shoes for no other reason than to share my pure joy at finding a shoe that feel fantastic from start to finish, even when the finish is over 8 hours later! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Steamtown Marathon. Scranton PA. 10/12/14

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tablos
I read somewhere how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself, at least once, in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head. - Chris McCandless (quoting Primo Levi), as written by John Krakauer, Into the Wild.

I needed to wind down and get some sleep. I had to be up at 5:00 am.  In the room next door, someone played their electric guitar.  Who brings an amp to a hotel?  It wasn’t horribly loud but just loud enough to disrupt my sleep in a quiet room. The TV had an unfortunate volume problem where at Level 1 the volume would drown out the guitar but was much too loud to be relaxing. One click down was Level 0, which meant it was off.  So I pulled out my iPad for diversion.

During the DeMar Marathon two weeks ago, I was completely consumed with the song Society by Eddie Vedder.  As that song played in my head, it propelled me through the second half of the course, distracting me from the pain of trying to run as fast as I could. 

I found the song, hoping to feel strong again before I fell asleep. I learned it was from the sound track of a movie called Into The Wild.  Into the Wild is a film adaptation of the biography of Chris McCandless written by John Krakauer. It is the true story about Chris, a young man who graduates college and then runs away from his life, from his material possessions, and from his family. He seems to be trying to find himself and how he fits into the world. He seems to be testing his theories by teaching others he meets what he believes is the meaning of life and the key to happiness.  He changes his name to Alexander SuperTramp. He travels across the United States. He believes he will find his peace once he is able to finally live in isolation off the land in the Wild Alaskan Wilderness surrounded only by the boundless beauty of nature and what the land naturally provides.   

I watched clips from the movie until late in the night, well past the apparent bed time of the guitar player next door.  I was fascinated by the story . The quote above stuck with me the next morning. 

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tablos

Race Pressure
For months I made Steamtown my focus. I wanted to run faster than I ever have before.  Steamtown would be my way of measuring myself as a runner and as a coach.  

I don’t like focused race training. It is emotionally exhausting. The sense of putting all eggs in one basket just screams out with the potential to be an opportunity for self-actualization or for the soul-crushing realization of personal limitations. Something as tiny as starting off just a few seconds too fast and overestimating ability could be all that is needed for me to tip the scale from extreme joy to heartache.

As a coach, I help others work towards their goals.  My runners trust me and I am confident that the runners I choose to work with are runners I am sure I can help if all things go well. I race often but not often to meet a goal.  When I do make a race the focus of my training, I want to show my runners that when I train myself with the same focused training I expect of them, that I, too, can and will see positive results if all goes well on race day. I can handle the pressure I put on myself as a runner, but I also feel the weight of the pressure I put on myself as a coach. In many ways the latter is much much greater. 

DeMar Marathon.
I feel like I got lucky. I had a great race two weeks ago, by accident. I ran the DeMar marathon because I needed one more 22+ mile Long Run. I started comfortable, feeling so good at mile 14 that I decided to push myself. I negativie split the race on the hilly second half. I finished DeMar in 3:15.  This was one of my best races.

Then a few days after DeMar,  after 1.25 miles of warm up, at 153 feet into the first 800m of my final speed session, I felt the track reach up and grab my hamstring.  My stride cut short. I hobbled. I tired to get back up to speed and it spasmed again. John called out, “Oh crap, you are serious!?”  Dave asked what I needed, what could he do to help. I said, in complete honesty, “I don’t know... this has never happened to me!” 

I jogged slowly to see if maybe it would loosened. 10 minute pace did not bother me, but just speeding up a little faster was to much. I could feel it grab. So I stopped and sat on the track. I put my cold water bottle on the tight spot. I felt overwhelmed with concern about what this meant. Dave and John did 4 repeats and I left them to finish their workout while I got myself home for ice. I decided that even if Steamtown did not workout for me, at least I had a good run at DeMar so all wasn’t lost.   

Twelve Days Later, I sat in the gym in Scranton trying to decide what to wear.  My car had ice on the windshield about 90 minutes earlier when I left the hotel to catch the bus to the start.  It as very cold at 6 am.  I was wearing capri pants, a t-shirt, arm sleeve, a hat, throw away gloves, a long sleeve throw away shirt. I knew I was over dressed, since it was now closer to 40 degrees and the air didn’t feel like it was biting my skin.  

I was glad to have brought extra clothes in my gear bag.  I changed into shorts and a singlet, kept the arm warmers and throw away gloves. Took out my sunglasses, my inhaler, 4 gels, and three small packets of iodized salt (yes, I am back experimenting with salt again, but only the iodized kind).  Ok, I was ready.

But where was Dave. I was sitting at the 3:10 sign where I said I would be. There was 15 minutes to go. I left the gym, alone, to line up after one last stop at the bathroom. I rushed to the front. I was on my own.  For months I visualized running with race with Dave nearby.  We are pretty equally matched and I thought we would at least start together.  Not today. 

Dave and I starting training together for this race after I insisted that he should actually try to run a fast marathon for once in his a life. I knew he should be able to run fast if he set his mind to do it.  His BQ time is 3:10. I wanted to try to break 3:10. I asked him to try to do it with me and we picked Steamtown. He would need close to a 20 minute PR for this. It would be hard, but not impossible. We met for speed work and long runs, getting focused and most committed to training with about 8 weeks to go. Training went well. There was some room for improvement but overall we both felt ready to give this an honest try.

The hand-cyclist were sent off and the runners are called up to the start.  I begin to walk forward wondering if I would see him along the way. I was ok with racing alone.  It could be better to start that way, since we knew it would be unlikely that we would execute the pacing in the exact same way, unless it happened naturally. 

I hear my name being called out a few times in the crowd.  With seconds to go before we start,  Dave and I spot each other and take our positions side-by-side in the starting corral. We are ready to get to work! 

M1 is a steep downhill start. It takes about a minute before we finally get some room to run freely. We say nothing.  M1 6:55

M2 and part of M3 are uphill. I planned to take it easy since I knew a long fast descent would follow. I wasn’t interested in fighting too hard early on and getting ahead of myself too soon.  Dave and I are still together. I tell him the next few miles are going to be fast.  M2 7:20, M3 7:16.

Dave starts to get a step or two ahead of me.  I don't force my pace.  Dave comments that he feels really good. He looks great.  He sounds great. I slowly watch him drift ahead of me. I felt I was running as fast as I could tolerate and still survive the duration. I was right at my red-line. I felt that pushing harder, even just a few seconds faster to stick with Dave would be a mistake for me. But Dave is stronger and bigger than me. He wasn't working too hard as he pulled away. I had visions of him waiting for me at the finish claiming a 3:05!  M4 6:54, M5 6:56, M6 6:58

The Pace Plan: I sent Dave my pace plan a few days before.  I don't know if he saw the plan. I scrutinized the past years results.  I calculated the average fade of the runners who successfully ran my goal time based upon the 18 mile split.  The hills came after 18 miles.  I did not expect to be able to Negative Split this race and still meet my goal. I wanted to hold an average of sub-7:10 through the half way, try to hold on if possible for that that same pace through 18 miles, coming through at just under 2:10. If I could do that, then my pace could naturally fade to a 7:26 pace as a terrain became more challenging through the last 8.2. If all that happened and he was with me, we would run a 3:09.  

I knew at mile 7 the course had a hill. I expected to fade a little, but I was 2 seconds below my goal pace for this section so I had some time to use.  I was able to pick it up again by M8. M7 7:16, M8 7:04 (Gel and salt)

Steamtown has rollers.  It is not a straight descent from 1-19.  As the terrain rolled I kept my effort even and just tried to keep my average pace a 7:10.  As I approached the half way mark, I was falling off. I was slipping into 7:11 average pace and knew I needed to think about what to do. M9-7:11, M10-7:16, M11-7:09, M12-7:15, M13-7:19 

First Check point - Targeting Sub-1:34
I hit the halfway mark at 1:34:xx and knew I was already off pace.  Someone calls out you are number 18 for the women. People had been counting ladies and I expected this to be the case. 

Mile 14.5 would start the trail section. I wasn’t worried about the footing. Nothing I read suggested I should expect to slow down on the trail. I was surprised to find that there was a lot of fresh cinder, rather than just hard packed dirt.  I tried to hold my pace but it was slipping. I felt it was a lot more work to run in loose cinder than to run on hard road.  M14 7:14, M15 7:19

With a few more miles of cinder covered trail, I decided that I was simply working too hard to maintain my goal pace and come out of it ok.  I was very concerned that pushing for 7:10's now would result in a hard blow up on the hills an hour later.  A guy next to me says, “Oh Wow. This is like running in quick sand!” I agreed. The effort it took to run a 7:10 pace felt like a 7:00 effort and it was incredibly too early for me to work that hard and expect to hold on. I decided to settle down and wait it out.  All I could do was try to make up time after I got back on the road. M16-7:28, M17-7:25, M18-7:22.  (Gel and Salt)

The Second Checkpoint - Targeting sub-2:10 at 18M
Finally out of the woods, I take a gel. It felts like I was a little late for a gel. I should have done it about a mile earlier, but I wanted to be near water. I was fading mentally as I knew I was falling off my goal with 3:09 slipping away.  I hit the 18 mile at 2:11:xx and knew I had a lot of work to do in the last 8 if I wanted to run a 3:09:59. I also knew that the worst hills are in the last two miles so it was going to be almost impossible for me to make up 90-120 second in those 8 miles. I started to feel defeated. M19 7:30

I needed to regroup. Re-focus. To dig. To start to fight. To not give up on myself.  I may not reach my 3:09:59 goal but I am still on pace for a PR and a PR is success!  I start to push a little harder and work every downhill I can find. M20 7:25

I am waiting for the music to start.  The music that appears in my head that helps me to feel strong. The music that distracts me from the pain. The music that propels me through. And today there is nothing.  None.  Not a single sound in my head except the pounding of my heart on my ear drums.  But I start to pick off ladies.  And I start to count my position. And I start to feel like I have a job to do!  M21-7:24 17th female.

Measuring Myself and Feeling Strong
I can see women ahead and I know I am moving steadily faster than they are. I am starting to feel strong.  "I read somewhere how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once."  I start to feel like if I fight and dig and use everything I got I might still have a chance at 3:10. I pass two more ladies. M22 7:23 15th female.

Dave had been ahead of me the entire time.  I knew if I saw him and caught him, it meant he was fading. I did not want to see him.  But as I approached 23 I did.  He was running well, but at this point, I was moving faster than most runners around me. Most were fading through the hills and I was holding steady.  

I was breathing so hard that I could tell Dave heard me before I got there and knew it was me. I asked him to come with me.  I wanted him to find a second wind. There were ladies just up ahead that I wanted to catch. He said he was done.  I asked him to dig.  He said he had nothing to dig for.  I told him he had more, it was in there... that he put it all in there during all our training... he just needed to find it.  

I had hoped he would unlock some false bottom of fatigue and come along with me so we could cross the line together just like I had imagined... but he just told me to go.  

I knew he was right.  This was his first serious marathon.  Pacing is very tricky.  When he drifted off ahead of me at mile 4, I thought about calling him back, telling him to stay with me because 7:09’s is fast enough for the 3:09:59... but I also know he is bigger than me.  He is stronger than me.  He trained with me but I know he can run faster than me.  I hoped that when he pulled away this meant he would finish hard and run sub-3:09. But when I caught him I knew he was depleted. He wasn’t going to be able to dig for low 7’s in the last 3 miles.  Three miles is a really long way when the legs are just empty. I know next time this won't happen to him. I know he learned a lot.  M23 7:32

I told him to stay strong and run for his PR, which would be HUGE for him.  A few seconds after catching up to Dave I was back on track trying to pass as many ladies as I could.  As we hit the very very steep hill I could no longer speak. A man sat on a chair at the top of the hill.  He cheered people up the hill. As I got close, he loudly exclaimed “Oh Wow, You Look Mad!”  I could not explain that I was in so much pain and just wanted it all to stop... so instead I just grunted at him and continued on my way. I think to myself "I feel strong!" M24 7:27, 14th female

We are almost done and yet there is still one more hill left.  I am working so hard.  I am mumbling random profanities out loud. The hill seems to last forever and I am running as fast as my legs can go.  Women cheer on the side.  One holds a sign that says,”Smile because you dont have to run tomorrow!” I think, “Not True!" I pass another lady as she walks up the hill. I think again, trying to convince myself of something I know is not true.  "I feel strong!" M25 7:22, 13th female

I missed the 25 mile mark. We are still running up hill and it just wont stop.  I ask a guy if we passed M25 yet, and he assures me we did. "Thank God!" I call out.  He laughs at me.  I fight to hold my speed.  I dont want to be passed by any women in last mile. Someone yells out a half mile to go!  I look at my watch and it say 3:06!  OMG, if he is right then I might be able to run break 3:10!!! I am trying to find any strength I have in my entire being to do this. I try again to focus. "I... FEEL... STRONG." (Lies... all lies) M26 7:21

My pace say 7:16 overall on my Garmin, but the distance is already reading long. I need to average 7:15s for 3:09:59 and I don't think I can do it … but I am just not sure.  Over the hill and down to the finish. I push myself as hard as I can.  My watch is already reading 26:3x and I am not there yet. The clock has turned to 3:11. I know I was only 10 second behind gun time. I wont get sub 3:10.  I won't even get sub-3:11.  That "half mile to go" was more like .7 miles to go, which it ok.  It felt great to believe I had a shot.  Last 0.2 - 2:30 (calculated on watch as 6:48 pace over the .37)

I finish strong, stagger though the finishing area, proud that I just ran the fastest marathon of my life.  I sit at the finish, waiting to see the finishes of those runners I trained. I find Steve and learn that he did get his BQ!  I find Dave and learn he set a new marathon PR by over 15 minutes!  I later get emails from the other runners I coached, learning two BQ'd and five in total ran personal bests either at Steamtown, Mohawk Hudson, or Chicago.  I call a few friends on the ride home to share all the amazing results of the day!

Final Time: 3:11:42
OA Place 163/2185
Gender Place: 13/931
AG Place: 2nd

I may not have reach my "A" goal, but I could not be happier with my result.  I wanted to run the fastest marathon of my life and that is exactly what I did!

At the end of the Into The Wild, Chris discovers that he has been looking at his life all wrong. He realized that living off the land, in the wild beauty of Alaska is a grand adventure and something to be proud to be able to do.  But he has no one to experience his adventure, his joy, or his struggles with.  He is alone and writes one final thought in his journal about what he has learned.    

“Happiness. Only Real When Shared.” - Chris McCandless 

Thank you very much for reading my blog. 

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tablos