Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What to Wear in Winter Weather, by Shannon McGinn

Photo by Stephen Bandfield while on one of his beautiful winter trail
runs on the Paulinskil Trail.  Stephen recommends gaiters
for conditions pictured above
Here in New Jersey, it has been a bitter, snow-filled winter. Yet, running in a snow-covered world is truly a gorgeous, serene, awe-inspiringing experience and simply must be done by anyone who calls themselves a runner.

The challenge of winter training is not only about "being tough enough"to brave the relentless cold (that is the easy part), but rather it is about finding safe places to run when our normal routes have become unnavigable, have unsafe footing, or have become too dangerous for safe travel.  In some cases, I feel it is more important to run appropriate training paces than it is to brave the elements. Even though I can tolerate the cold, I have run many miles inside this winter for both safety and for training pace purposes.

Many new runners fear that winter training means being miserably cold for hours.  That is simply not true.  Once a runnable route is available, the most uncomfortable part about winter running is the start. I have timed how long runners training with me take to feel comfortable on the coldest days.  Depending up how cold it is, the appropriately dressed runners report feeling comfortable between 3 and 10 minutes from the start and, barring worsening conditions, they remain comfortable for the duration of their run. That's it. About 5 minutes of being cold was the norm for those with appropriate gear. Therefore, if after 1.0 to 1.5 miles the cold is still a problem then your gear needs to be evaluated and weaknesses addressed.

At the start of each winter season, I notice that very few new runners dress properly.  Runners are either woefully underdressed, usually because they simply don’t own appropriate winter running gear, or they overcompensate with gear more appropriate for the ski slopes. It takes a few runs in the cold, in the wrong gear, to learn how your body feels after it generates its own warmth. Keep in mind that erring on the side of overdressing can make a run equally miserable by causing you to feel oppressively overheated or sometimes chilly from sweating too much before removing layers. The goal is to find lightweight warm-enough gear that eliminates the bitter sting of the cold while allowing you free range of motion, the ability to remove layers as needed, and the ability to sweat off the heat your body is generating even on the coldest days.

When dressing in the winter, consider what you might wear if you were standing around outside, not running, and the weather was 20 degrees warmer.  I always look at the “feels like” temperature not the actual temperature. Windchill and humidity can make a big difference in what I wear.  Pace of the run matters as well.  If you plan to run as fast as possible at a race, plan to dress lighter than when you plan to run a slower paced training run in the same weather.

A fun, effective tool called What to Wear is found on the Runners World website. You can personalize some factors to generate some appropriate options. This tool can help you not lose your mind the night before your first marathon when the weather is predicted to be 38 degrees with 10 mph winds from the north, and you have no idea if that means you should wear shorts or tights. 
Trail Shoe: Notice the Lugs 
Road Shoe: No Lugs

The last time I was out running in "feels like" 5 degrees, I made some notes about what I wore.  Thanks to my sponsorship by Brooks, I have acquired a lot of wonderful gear, most of it from their Utopia Thermal Line. I am sure there are other brands that offer comparable products, but I love what I use and have not needed to look further. I hope my list helps others more quickly discover what they need to feel comfortable during the long winter runs necessary for great spring races. After all we still have 28 more days until Spring to deal with.

Shoes: If I am running on roads that I believe will be cleared of snow, I chose road shoes.  However, I prefer trail shoes for running long periods of time on completely snow covered terrain (either trails or road/path that has not been maintained). Trail shoes have lugs which allow better traction as well as encourage the snow to fall away with each step. 

Since toothy traction is not needed for roads, road shoes tend to have ridges cut into the sole. Muck and snow tend to adhere to road shoes and make the shoes very slippery. 

Trail Shoe: Tight Weave
Road Shoe: Loose Weave
Trail shoes also have a tighter weave of the upper to keep out grit. This also helps to keep out snow, moisture, and even cold air. Duct tape over the uppers of your road shoes can be a good solution to help your feet stay warm.

Gaiters:  I don't own gaiters.  I have never gotten enough grit into my shoes to compel me to purchase a product meant to keep the junk out.  Some runners have more trouble keeping debris out of their shoes and gaiter are aimed to resolve that problem.  Trail runners are more familiar and have more use for gaiters than road runners do.  One of the runners I am working with, Stephen, highly recommends wearing gaiters when training in the snow.  I recommend taking his advice since he has repeatedly proven that snowy days don't stop him for getting his training done.  I have heard wonderful things about Dirty Girl Gaiter and if I were to purchase a pair, I would start with them.
Dirty Girl Gaiters

Shoe Traction Accessories: I find that trail shoes work great for me and I no longer use any accessories to help me with traction. But as a rule, I avoid running on ice for extended periods of time whenever possible. Unlike others who abhor the treadmill, I am happy to take my run inside if the conditions outside are likely to be unsafe and frustrating.
Yak Trax
If you decide you must navigate an icy route you should think about traction accessories. Yak Trax are one option. The are convenient since you can take them on and off when needed, but some report that they do break over time.

Many people also swear by screw shoes. You will need sheet metal screw with hex heads and a power-drill (to make fast work of this). If you choose this option, I recommend you carry a dime in your pocket.

If it was 1984, you could use that dime to call home when your screws start to get a bit unruly. But it is not 1984, so instead the dime can be used to loosen or remove screws as needed. If you run long enough (i.e. many hours), you will find that your shoes do compress significantly and depending upon the placement of your screws, you may start to feel them poke through and that can make running less fun.

Personally, I find that screw shoes work well for shorter, unavoidably icy runs. But if you are running a hybrid course of road and ice for a long time, the teeth of the screws do wear down, ultimately adding  slip, rather than grip. You should always check the status of the screws before each run and change the screws as needed.

Photo of well-placed screws
After two seasons of playing around with screws, I stopped using them for a few reasons. First, they poked me on my long run and I did not like that.  Second, they were not necessary or appropriate for all terrain I traveled during my long runs. Finally, if you plan to stop anywhere (e.g. out to breakfast after the run) you need to remember to bring an extra pair of shoes unless you are ok with sounding like a tap-dancer and/or don't mind if you scratch up someone’s floor. For those who like to make mid-run pit stops for drinks or the bathroom, screws may be a bad choice.

If you do thinks screws are for you, aim to place them in a manner that will allow them to grip when needed, but minimize the chance that they will be felt through your shoes. Along the outside edges work best.

Drymax Sock
Socks: I use Drymax sock exclusively. I wear the maximum protection socks for all my winter running. They are warm enough to make my road shoes comfortable in the cold and add cushion to my trail shoes that feels nice.  I wear the lighter versions Drymax offers in the warmer months.

Pants: Brooks Utopia Fleece Lined Tights and Brooks Utopia Thermal Pants are my winter running options. I really cant say enough good things about these, especially the fleece-lined tights. On very cold days, where I plan to run long and slow and expect a lot of wind, I will wear them together. If the temperatures are over 15, I will just wear the tights. A note about what to wear under tights, I prefer some type of comfortable bikini brief or even boy short cut type underwear under tights since they do not have liners like shorts so. Some guys like compression shorts. Choose undergarments that don't result in riding up or chafing and you should be good.
Utopia Thermal
Fleece-Lined Tights

Tops: At 5 degrees, I needed many layers on top to stay warm. I have learned that if I want to keep my finger warm, I need to think about my core and keep that very warm first. If my upper body is too cold, my body will start conserving heat not allowing warmth to reach my extremities. Sometimes cold hands are more about needing more layers on the core than better gloves on my hands.

When it is very cold, I always start with a sleeveless tech shell over my sports bra and then layer a long sleeve thin tech shirt over that.  If it is particularly windy or extremely cold, I will add one more layer over the those (usually a tech-T shirt) and then add a jacket. I lots lots of light layers to capture warmth and to allow me to adjust.

Material matters.  Technical fabrics are much more comfortable, breathable, and warmer than cotton.  Cotton holds moisture and makes winter running very uncomfortable both due to chaffing as well as creating a chilling effect when you stop moving or slow down and you are covered in sweat.

Utopia Thermal
I have two jackets to choose from that work very well for me. I really like my Brooks Utopia Thermal Hoodie for the coldest days. It is breathable but with a tight enough weave to be wind-resistant. A second, lighter jacket option that I also really like is my Brooks Nightlife Jacket II, which has since been replaced by the Nightlife III. I like both of these jackets because they both are wind resistant, but not waterproof, offer sleeves with thumb holes that can cover my hands (I don’t prefer elastic around my wrists) and they have pockets that zipper shut.   

Face covering: In very cold weather I need to have something to cover my face and neck. For years I have been using a thin fleece buff (a tube of fleece). This piece of gear is invaluable to me. When I have something to cover my face, I feel a lot more comfortable. Without it my experience would be exponentially more unpleasant.  Recently, Alanna gave me a new larger, thicker fleece Buff that is best for the coldest day.

Hat: A warm wool hat works very well for me. I prefer a hat that covers my ears over just a head band/ear warmers type thing. If I get too warm, I take off the hat and slide my neck buff over my head to cover my ears if needed.

Between the hat and buff, the only part of my face that is exposed is my eyes. Sometimes this is still uncomfortable. You know it is cold when you contemplate sunglasses for warmth. I cant wear glasses with the buff because the warm humid air from my breath gets directed up from the buff, fogging the glasses. So for me, it is either the buff or the glasses and the buff wins.

Inner Glove of 3-in-1
Outer shell of the 3-in-1
Gloves/Mittens: After trying many types of glove, I finally conceded that the only covering that keeps my hands warm are mittens.  My hands are very sensitive to the cold. My fingers go painfully numb in temperatures that should not make that happen. The only gloves that work for me are the Brooks Utopia 2-in-1 Mittens. They are now called the 3-in-1 Mittens. My 2-in-1's are two layers of mitten. The new version has an internal glove layer and I am not sure how I feel about this change.  I like having my fingers touch each other sharing warmth. Both have an external mitten that is windproof/waterproof. The double layer seems to make a huge difference for me. Since getting my mittens, my long runs no longer are cut short due to my painfully cold hands. 

Many new runners fear that running in the cold will be too miserable to tolerate. My experience is quite the opposite. I have figured out what I need to neutralize the cold.  Since finding the gear that works best for me, running in winter weather has become a challenging but pleasant experience, preferable to hot, humid, summer running where it can become impossible to run at comfortable temperature.  Besides, nothing makes you feel more like a running machine than training in temperature so cold that everything around you is frozen solid and the thought of cutting your run short doesn't even cross your mind.

No write up about winter weather would be complete without the famous quote from Bowerman, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"...  but I think I disagree.   Instead, I think there is no such thing as bad weather, just crappy gear.

Shannon McGinn is a RRCA Certified distance running coach and owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is a life long runner,  who found running to be a great tool in her recovery from cancer when diagnosed in 2005.  Since completing treatment in 2007, Shannon started over as run/walker and grew into an accomplished ultrarunner, specializing in the 50 km and 50 Mile distances.  Since December 2011, she has been Streak Running, currently averaging 9.5 miles per day.  Shannon also placed 3rd Woman Overall in the 2013 USATF-NJ Long Distance Running New Balance Grand Prix, a year long 5k-to-Marathon distance Road Racing Series held in NJ.  Shannon offers Private Coaching (Online anywhere in the country and In-Person locally) and volunteers as a Coach for the Monmouth County Team in Training Chapter as well as the Ulman Fund’s Cancer to 5k At Home program. You can follow Shannon’s Race Reports and other writings posted weekly here on her blog, Creating Momentum!.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to Choose a Treadmill, by Shannon McGinn

Sole F85
I run almost as many miles on my treadmill as some run all year round. I still run more outside than I do inside. I tally close to 3500 miles per year. I train up to 14 hours per week. When not able to get outside, I get my workouts done in my basement. I need a quality machine that can take a beating. 

Last month, I learned the hard way that treadmill belts are supposed to be lubricated regularly. Despite my neglect, it took seven (7) years for me to break the belt on my machine. I am very hard on things, so it says a lot that it took me this long to break it.

Not sure if it was fixable, I starting researching a potential replacement. Treadmills offer many features. There are only a few factors I look for when selecting a treadmill. Primarily, I am concerned with the motor, the deck, the frame, the range of speed and incline, and the warranties. 

(1) The most important and most complex factor is the motor. Treadmill motors are measured in horsepower (HP), but not all reported HP measurements are alike.  Some manufacturers report the Peak Duty HP while others report the Continuous Duty HP of the motor.  When a manufacturer wants to make its treadmill motor appear more powerful than it really is, it will report the Peak Duty HP.  

Peak Duty HP is simply the highest HP the motor could potentially reach. Continuous Duty is the HP is the HP that the motor can hold continuously throughout the duration of regular use.  A higher quality treadmill will identify the Continuous Duty HP of the motor. A walker may be able to get away with a 2.5 HP motor or less, but anyone serious about running should not settle for less than a 3.0 Continuous Duty HP motor.

In some cases, with less powerful motors, you may find information about a Duty Cycle.  A Duty Cycle is how long the motor can work, e.g. 30 minutes, or 60 minutes, before it risks overheating.  A Continuous Duty motor should not overheat during regular use as long as the HP of the motor is sufficient to power the machine as the Continuous Duty motors should be manufactured to cool themselves.  A weaker motor may only be able to tolerate a limited amount of time before it needs a break to cool down. If you are not likely to run longer than the duty cycle of a weaker motor, then you may be able to get away with a less expensive, less powerful treadmill. But if you have the potential to run longer than the motor can tolerate, then it makes little sense to purchase a cheaper, weaker machine.

(2) A second important factor is the deck. I look at strength and also the size.  Decks have been known to crack. To feel safe, I want a deck with the ability to withstand a heavy runner and with little history of splitting underneath me. Manufacturers will list the weight their decks can tolerate. I recommend reading reviews to determine if decks hold up under the weight of regular use. 

If you are a taller, larger person and/or if you plan to run fast and need to open your stride, you will also need a deck that is long and wide enough to accommodate your stride length and the width of your body comfortably.  A smaller machine may take up less room, but it makes little sense if you cannot comfortably train on it.  Go to a Sporting Goods Store. Run on a few machines and see which deck length meets your needs and the needs of those in your household. You don't need to purchase the machines you run on, but it will help you determine what size deck makes the most sense. 

(3) A third factor is the frame. Less expensive, less powerful treadmills are made for walkers and offer weaker frames that can wobble or break under the pressure of even moderate paced running. I want a frame that is sturdy and stable when I am running my fastest. I have seen videos of frames crumbling under the stress of hard running.  Again, I suggest reading reviews to determine the strength of the frame and look for any reported issues.  

(4) A fourth factor is range of speed. I rarely run much faster that 6 minute pace on a treadmill. Many machines should offer speeds up to 12 mph. If you are a much faster runner and/or do very fast speed work on the treadmill, you may need a machine that goes up to 15 mph.  

I don’t recommend runners do their fastest speed work on the treadmill due to safety.  If you need to stop suddenly due to a twinge or strain, you simply can not just stop. If the machine malfunctions under the strain of your pace, you could possibly get hurt. The machine also takes time to start up and slow down at its own pace, which can be frustrating or interfere with the pace goals of your workout. I prefer to keep my fastest interval work outside and use treadmills for tempo and progression runs instead, where there is no need to start and stop as speed builds.  Accordingly, I find a machine that offers up to 12 mph good enough for me and I wont pay more for the extra 15 mph of speed. If you are faster than me, then you may decide you need a machine that can peak at 15mph.

(5) A fifth factor is range of incline (or decline). This is the feature I use the least, but I do use it.  I prefer to run hills outside so that I can get the decline work done as well. Unless my race is a point to point uphill run, like one of my favorites - the La Luz Trail Run, running only up hill is prep for half the challenges of a hilly race.  In some cases, I just dont have hills I need around me.  As a result, when training for the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler, I did create a hill simulator workout because I could not find any hills near me that replicated the extreme length of the uphills I would face on that course. I also use a Boston Marathon Hill Simulator workout to train myself and the runners I coach, but these hill workouts supplement running hills outside. I find that I don’t have much use for running inclines over 12%, so I wont pay more for a machine just so that I can get steeper uphills. Your needs may be different. 

We need down hill running to run hills well. There are machines that now offer a decline feature. I don’t own one. I have not used one. But my understanding is that the decline will max out at about 3% decline and the speed is also limited, making it hard to replicate the type of paces or descents we may experience when flying down a decline in real life. As a result, I just don’t see the point in paying extra money for a feature that I don’t find useful to me.  Others may have more positive things to say about the decline machine. 

(6) THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  The deal breaker factor for me will be the warranties. If you are going to invest a lot of money in a quality machine you will likely need to spend, at the minimum, between $1000-$2000.  With that type of investment, you want to look for the best warranties possible. I would walk away from a purchase of a machine with weak warranties. Weak warranties are a sign that the quality of the product is poor. I look for Lifetime Warranties on the most important components, like motor, deck and frame. 

Keep in mind that most warranties do NOT transfer between owners. Therefore purchasing a used treadmill from a gym, Craigslist, or a friend may sound like a sweet deal. But if you spend $500-$1000 for a used machine, that already has an unknown amount of wear and tear on it, you may be starting your treadmill search all over again or investing just as much as you would in repairs had you purchased a brand new machine that has warranty coverage when that sweet deal breaks.  

There are many features that I find less important but others may not.  Some runners care about the display features and need to have media connections. I set my treadmill up in my basement in front of a TV so I don’t care about the media connections.  I also don’t concern myself with fans.  Any fan included on a treadmill will be too weak to be functional.  If I need a fan, I set one up next to my machine.  I also don’t care much about whether it folds up for easy storage.  Once my treadmill is set up, I have never folded it. If I did fold it, it would end up folded up in the center of the room, since I do not place the front of the machine directly against the wall. My machine has wheels, but I have no desire to roll it around twice a day, so I just leave it open and ready to go. However, many quality machines are folding treadmills, so I would not turn one down because it folds, it just seems to be a superfluous feature. 

I am glad I was able to fix my treadmill belt and it now runs better than right before it broke. Apparently, I should have been lubricating the belt every 180 hours or every 3 months, which ever came first. This time I will be more careful, since this repair was not covered by the warranties on my machine.  It was a $140 dollar fix and worth it in my opinion. 

If I had to select a new treadmill right now, I would again select the same machine I purchased seven years ago and continue to use today.  For me, this is the Sole F85. It costs about $1800 online. I believe the company may still offer military discounts, but you need to ask for them.

The newest version boasts a 4.0 Continuous Duty Horse Power motor which is one of the most powerful continuous duty motor I could find. The deck is larger than average and I feel comfortable in that space.  It is not the most cushioned deck available, but I like having a firmer surface and prefer a bit more impact when training. I feel it makes transitioning to outdoors less of a shock to my system. The frame is solid and sturdy. It can handle runners up to 400 lbs. The belt is two ply and when mine broke, only the bottom ply split, leaving the upper belt intact and there was no danger to me when this happened.  And finally, it offers Lifetime Warranties for the motor, the deck, and the frame. This means when you purchase a Sole, it could very well end up being your treadmill for life. I have had mine for 7 years now and it only needed one repair just last month. 

My complaints about the newest F85, first, include the bad design decisions made with the display. First the preset buttons for speed go 2,3,4,5,6,9... skipping 7 and 8 where I spend most of my time (of course  you can scroll manually through all mphs). 

The new version also eliminated the hundredth's place when measuring distance. If you like to run quarter mile repeats on your machine, you won't know when you reach .25 miles accurately, unless the displace shows an image of a track. You may need to run .2 or .3 mile reps instead. These issues could be deal breakers for others, but they would not be for me. 

I hope this helps you decided what you should be looking for when purchasing a treadmill.  If you like this article, you can find more articles like this one, periodically posted here on my blog, Creating Momentum!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 100, Huntsville, TX. 2/1/14

The Short Story
I would like to say that I just did not want it badly enough. But that would make this too easy to resolve. The truth is I know I did want it badly enough and still I could not stop the implosion. 

The Long Story 

The Past:
I have stayed away from serious efforts at 100s and 24s for about a year now.  I have a lot of trouble not throwing up once past the 12 hour mark, especially in warm climates. 

The only time I was able to avoid throwing up was in 2010 at Freedom Park. I ran my heart out. I took about an hour and a half nap after hitting my 100 mile split in 19:38. Then I got up and walked until I got passed by Vikena, which motivated me to start running again to take back the second place spot I held all day and I did. There was no way I was catching Liz Bauer who was leading, but I wanted to hold second. I didn't want to loss my position at the end of the race, again. 

Eighteen days earlier, I had lost Ancient Oaks (my first try a 100) after leading for abt 95 miles, to Cheryl Lager. I started throwing up after mile 90, I believe. It was the furthest I got in a race before the vomiting started. I was able to finish it. Cheryl ran a brilliant race, reeled in the lead I worked so hard to build.  But I was new. I went out hard.  And it was exhilarating. 

To hold a position on the leaderboard motivates me and make running feel easier than when I am mid-pack.  At Freedom Park, I went out faster than I did at Ancient Oaks. I worked hard all day. Running fast mostly to stay warm.  Singing stupid songs that popped into my head when feeling good.  Repeating the mantra "nothing hurts... nothing hurts... nothing hurts..." for hours when everything hurt.  It was a 32 degree misty day.  I was cold. I got tired. My feet hurt badly, but I never threw up. I had a pretty good kick in that last 30 minutes. I ran a good race. That was a long time ago. It was amazing. 110.67 miles in 24 hours.

I have been chasing that performance for years now. Since then, I have had a lot of trouble. When not having immune system meltdowns which took much of my 2010 from me, or liver failure from medication during 2011, or plantar fibromas from chronic painful plantar fasciitis... when I did show up well trained and healthy, my stomach betrayed me, without warning, just beyond the half way point.

Throwing up means, all the precious calories and hydration I know I need to sustain me even at a walk are gone. The cruelest part is that I cannot recover once it starts. Most people can. Anything I ingest, even ice, will trigger my stomach to wretch. I can't take in fluid or even the smallest solid food. I can walk as long I eat or drink nothing. But after 12-14 hours of movement, within a few miles of walking with no food or fluids, I feel the fatigue set in hard and even the motion of simply walking irritates my stomach enough to make me throw up bile, curdled blood, or nothing. The spasms hurt and leave me sore for days. As the end of my race grows nears, I have become unable to move, reduced to being stuck, almost paralyzed as each step threatens more wrenching of nothing but pain and heartbreak.

I am not looking for advice or tips or recommendations, at least not right now. I have already tried years worth of things before taking a step back. Ginger isn't magic. Special (non-acidic, mostly liquids, etc.) foods did not help on race day. I temporarily cut out gluten and found some collateral benefits, but it didn't stop my vomiting. I tried Peptso, Tums, Zantac. Pepcid at intervals. A week of pre-medicating with Prilosec. I tried staying cool, eating ice. I tried slowing down, to a degree, because I refused to start so slow that I would not be competitive - after all I train hard for these races, sacrifice a lot to get there, and I want to run my best. Sitting down, taking a nap, etc. to "recover" in order to go back out is not an option. It doesn't happen that way for me. There just isn't enough time. It takes me 12 hours to 2 days for my stomach to feel better after the throwing up starts. I have wasted a ton of money just to feel physically and emotionally defeated, over and over.

The Good:
After doing this repeatedly to myself from 2010 through 2012, in 2013 I decided I needed a break. I focused on shorter races and trained hard, smart, and consistently. I set new PRs I am very proud of in 50 mile, 6 hour, 50k, etc. I did not throw up for over a year. I ran daily, averaging 9.5 miles a day. I hit 100+ mile weeks. Ran 380 miles in 28 days. I mastered depletion training, running for 20 miles needing not a single thing. No food. No sports drink. No water, as long as it was cool or cold. I started testing my blood sugar to see what happens when I train depleted. I hoped to train my body to need less so I could get by with less if I needed to and maybe throw up less. I learned to pack light and rely less on my own specific "special" things and instead on race supplied items (because you really cant bring the magical kitchen sink to a race). I have become very low maintenance now and I am proud of that. I corrected some gear mistakes, finding a better headlamp and clothes that don't chafe me allowing me to feel confident and comfortable when I am running. I trained my feet out of my orthotics, eliminating the hard plastic insoles that hurt my feet badly as races go on.

I trained my best and tried many things, but is there is no way to find out what will help me at hour 14 into a race without first running for 14 hours.

The present: 
I had not puked in a year. I have trained consistently. I was setting PR's by accident. I was getting ready to try again. I choose RR100 when I found out it was the National Championship, in February in Texas. I read race reports of it being cool weather some times or rainy.  I race well in the rain. I decided that if I do have a good race and not throw up, the Nationals made sense as the race to run. 

I was very anxious about going. More so than before any other race. I realized I love the feeling of being brave enough to face my demons with little guarantee for success. It is easy when success is imminent. Here failure was more likely, but all I need is a small chance. The jitters make me feel alive and I think that part is worth it.  My left eye twitched for a week and I lost too much sleep the days before I left for Texas. I knew it was anxiety and hoped it was a good sign.

Dave, Me, and John
I did not want to make a big deal out of going. I made an attempt to tell very few people, since I knew this could be a huge disaster for me.  There is also always a chance I dont make it to the start of a race I want to run. I have learned to make a habit of posting "Where I Have Been" and "What I Have Done" rather than "Where I Will Be" and "What I Will Do" for many reasons.

I told Dave, since he is my friend, and he decided he was interested in going too. I have known Dave since 2008. He understands how I function (and my eccentricities).  He has been to races that were important to me before. He is easy going and doesn't need much. That is what I needed to be around. We planned to catch the same flight, share a car, book rooms in the same hotel. He knows the planning details are important to me since my schedule is not that flexible. I just sent him my itinerary and said here this is where I will be if you want to come. It made me feel 100 times better to know I would have a friend out there to travel with, especially after the race when I would be exhausted and we needed to get back to the airport. 

I also told John. I knew he was at Rocky last year and I wondered if he wanted to come back again. I alway love to see him. He is a good man, low key, he makes me laugh and he gives great advice. He is never critical and rarely every tells me what I should do or not do but rather just lets me try to figure stuff out. I learn a lot just when he talks about things he has done and he isn't even trying to teach anything. 

It is nice to have dinner with people the night before who don't need to make a big project out of it and who allow me to be crazy and control freaky. They let me pick the restaurant and that makes me happy. :)  I am truly the worst at socializing the night before an important race. I don't even want to be with myself and cant imagine why others want to sit across from a stress case. I am nervous and anxious and need to just be with people who know me well enough to not ask me things that make me more nervous. John and Dave were the best people to hang out with and it was not a stressful night at all. :)

Orthotics Free:
In addition to dropping due to puking, there was also a chance my plantar fascia would not be able to tolerate the journey. This is my 3rd and longest race without my orthotics. I knew I would be asking a lot from my feet. I am happy to report that of everything that could go wrong, this was not one of them. I had few issues with my feet and this is a HUGE positive.

The Race
I hoped that RR100 had a chance to be cool. It was February. The weather last week was cold. But on race day morning, it was about 62 at the start with very high humidity. I knew this was not going to be good for me. Weather predicted temps rising over 70 and the humidity would rise up to 100% culminating in rain at some point.

I wore a pair of Brooks Short Tights, the 7 inch length, and had no chafing at all.  I wanted to wear a sports bra only, but I needed a singlet over it to stop my Race Vest from rubbing. 
I used a Nathan's race vest (not a hydration pack) to carry my head lamp and a small handheld lamp on one side and a 10 oz Nathan's quick shot bottle on the other side. There were plenty of aid station per lap so I relied on the food and drinks provided on the course. I wore my Launch the whole time. I selected them because they are lighter weight at 7 oz and my feet felt good in them. I was not willing to wear too light a shoe just yet, as I was worried about my PF becoming irritated. I find that a shoe under 7 oz seems to lose weight by reducing the cushion as well as the structural support.  My PF was not ready for that type of challenge.  Although these are road shoes, I knew they worked for me. I had no trouble on the trail in them. 

The course was lovely.  It was a 20 mile loop.  It meandered a lot. It was coated with pine needles. There was no snow or mud. It was pretty much a dry course. It was mildly rolling, so don't expect it to be flat. I did not find the hills to be a big deal. There were some rooty sections, some sandy, some boards over marshy stuff, but you could run the course without issue. I had two goals going in: Run Well or Just Finish it.

We started at 6:00 am. I was concerned about navigating in the dark for over an hour until sunrise. I just bought a new headlamp and this was my first day using it. I also added a small handheld. This combination was quite effective so vision was not a problem. The fact that I ran an hour in the dark over roots and other trail obstacle and did not fall down speaks volumes.

But as soon as we started, I felt the impact of the humidity.  It was oppressive. I could see my breath in the light from my lamp and it wasn't even cold out. In addition, the huge number of runners, almost 500, made it hard to move fast on single track rooty trail in the darkness. All this meant was I was not likely to have a great race. My strategy of getting a strong start and holding on changed immediately. It was now about survival and "Just Finishing" from the very beginning.

Completing lap 2 and feeling beat down. Need food. 

I waited patiently for daylight and when it arrived I was pleased to have not eaten dirt once. I thought I could make up some time once I was more confident with my footing in the light. I did get my pace down a bit, but around mile 10, I notice my nose bleeding. I have been having a daily nose bleeds since January 14th. I attribute it to winter weather, but I never had this happen in a race. It was not a gusher, but it was a constant slow steady stream for 10 miles.  I am glad I wrapped a bandana around my wrist.

At mile 15, I stopped at a portopotty and it was spinning. The walls looked like they were breathing and the floor looked like it had a millions tiny ants all running from the center outwards in unison. If I looked closely there was nothing going on, I was just having a dizzy spell. I believe this was more due to the humidity than a nose bleed. All of this was distressful, but I was not stopping for a nose bleed. I got cleaned up at end of lap one and went back out.

At this point I was disappointed in how things were turning out but I wasn't ready to give up. I accepted that my time would be slow, but I was getting lost in a negative funk. I was chafing from my vets, had to wear my singlet to resolve that and the combo was too hot for me. I had fallen twice in the day light, when I would start to daydream. I was having trouble running any respectable pace due to the humidity crushing my sole. I was hungry.

me and z 

I grabbed a few cheese quesadilla wedges. A lot of what happened next over the next 40 miles is somewhat blurry. At some point I partnered up with Zsuzsanna. There were ups and downs for the both of us but mostly just genuine mutual support and camaraderie. At some point, I was sure I was holding her back. At other points she was sure she was holding me back, but we had decided to help each other through the rough spots. I am grateful for her company and her spirit. I am sure I would not have had so much fun without her there. It is funny what people talk about in the woods, while in motion, while trying to not think about the hard work before them. The stuff people talk about is just as moving, it is real, and it makes people feel like good friends in just a few hours. I know that is how I ended the day, with person I felt connected to.

Z and I were able to regroup and find a comfortable pace we could both tolerate that gave us a chance for a sub-24 hour finish.  By mile 30, I felt a rejuvenation as some rain drizzled down. The first break in the humidity and it was refreshing, but short lived. Soon the humidity returned and it was hard for me to handle. Up in NJ, I have been running in a "polar vortex" and 80-100% humidity was just beating me down, even at 70 degrees.

At some point, I notice my left achilles was getting very angry. I had irritated it on my last long run the week before when Alanna and I ran 13 miles in Belmar, on icy and snowy roads. I felt pain and stopped my run early. It was irritated my entire taper week, but I figured that was nerves making phantom pains. Z offered me some Motrin. At that early point in the race, I decided that it was worth a shot, forgetting that my stomach bleeds from NSAIDS, but more likely hoping it just wouldn't bleed since I haven't taken NSAID in years now. I knew imy achilles wasn't getting better while on the course and I wanted to do what I could to help me have a chance to finish. I was willing to assume whatever risk one dose of Motrin carried. (I am aware of the horrible dangerousness of NSAIDS. My position is that I take nothing unless I feel I truly need something. I dont take meds for security like many who pre-medicate, but rather I take it for a purpose. When at Nationals, Dr Lovey and his medical crew assured me that one dose of advil is not of any concern as long as I am peeing. This is medical advice given from a doctor whose job it is and has been to attend to the needs of 24 hour runners at the Worlds. If he says I can take a dose of pain med in a race, then I feel ok with that. Some people abuse them and that is not safe. I can't remember the last time I took pain medication in a race, so it takes a good reason for me to take it.)

As we approached the end of lap 2, I saw Dave coming back the other way looking fantastic. This was my second low point of the race. When I saw him I had a complete emotional melt down. I was so upset that things were just going so shitty after all my hard work and patience. I told him that I just didn't care if I walked the next 60 miles, I just needed to finish it. Note to self: If you find yourself overwhelmed with the urge to cry in a race... Eat. Something. Immediately.

I regained my head, caught back up to Z and grabbed some food. We went back out on loop 3. After eating something solid, I felt a million times better. For the first part of lap 3, I was feeling strong again. It was a mini-rejuvenation. Z encouraged me to go on without her. 

Z is not just a runner, she is a racer. She knows the sport. She knows the people. She knows how to race and we even discussed that if one of us felt good to just go. But I refused because we were still moving steady as a team and that was important to me. I had a sense she might slow down or not go out on the next lap if we separated. I had a sense that I would not go out on the next lap either with her. I didn't want to just run off, knowing well enough that the burst of positive energy I was having will be short lived and sprinting ahead will just shortened the life of the anti-funk I was experiencing.

We were approaching 50 and I felt really great. I knew I could do it. I was insisting that if we just maintained our pace we would be between 22-24 hours. I had a great lamp system so seeing at night was no longer a concern. My achilles stopped hurting. The food made me stop whining. I was peeing each lap so I know I was hydrating well. It would be dark soon and all we had to do was keep moving.

As we hit 50, we were still together and we were even starting to get competitive. It was great to run with a partner who pays attention to the others in the race. I could tell we were both taking mental notes. Z would share things she observed about the other runners. She and I were both also encouraging other runners now (which is a really good way to keep spirits up if the other runners want to talk and are open to encouragement). I felt like I was actually helping some feel better when they looked like crap. Everyone looked like crap, even the leaders. As some passed us, Z and I would report that everyone was suffering so they were running much better than they thought they were.

As we passed the last aid station I could consume food at, I still felt good... until all of a sudden did not. I tried to eat another wedge of quesadilla... and I just could not get it down. I ate some oranges. And then the puking started out of know where at about mile 52. And that is when it looked all dark, black, and grindy and I realized that the damn Motrin got me again. It helped my Achilles but killed my stomach.

It was getting dark and I was a mess. I couldn't run a step. I couldn't think. I couldn't drink. I couldn't eat. I was just moving slowly. A complete and utter failure of what ultrarunning is supposed to be.

We came out of the woods to an aid station. I saw John waiting for me. I leaned on him and told him I was puking. Although I refused to truly believe it was over for me, part of me already knew it. He encouraged me the best he could. He gave me great advice... real useful information about how much time I had to get it done and that it was very possible. He helped me get soup. He told me to finish the lap, then sit and wait until I felt better, then go back out. I would say the same thing to anyone else. It is usually works. But I know it doesn't for me.

I took in some soup...and as walked on.  Soon I threw up the soup and then dry heaved a lot or threw up bile the rest of the 8 mile walk back. If I had been able to keep the soup down I would have had hope. But I could not. I was fading as we walked. Z stayed with me. She didn't have to.

Well she kinda did, b/c she gave her handheld lamp to a man who caught us. He asked to share our light b/c his was in his bag. Z could see he wanted to move faster. She is a selfless helper and gave him her flashlight, with instructions to drop it in her bag.

As we got to the end, I told her I was done. There was no way, even if I started to feel a little better, that could make it through a 20 mile loop, and we had 2 left. I saw Dave heading back out, looking great but asking "Is it possible that it is now hotter than before!?" Yes it was. It was 70 still but the humidity was higher. WTF Texas?!

I told Dave I was done and to call me when he was too so I could come get him. I wished him luck and knew he would finish. He was strong and on a mission and he had a great race!

Finishing our 60 miles

Z and I didn't even get past the timing mat before we both handed in our chips. She pulled the curtain back to the timing tent and pointed out the box for chips. It was about 1/3 full at least... all DNF's. Ours included. (By the end of the day almost half the field would DNF) She was having her own issues, which is her story to tell. I know we did a lot to try to pull each other out of our funks the best we could. Today was just not our day.

The last two days when running my recovery runs, I have heard this song. For some reason I felt I needed to include it in this report:

But I'm only human
And I bleed when I fall down 
I'm only human 
And I crash and I break down 
Your words in my head, knives in my heart 
You build me up and then I fall apart 

Someone asked "Why keep doing this to yourself?" 

Why? Because when I finally do have a good race, like I did at Freedom Park, I know it will mean more to me than any other race that I lined up for in my life.

Even if I fear others have lost faith in me, I still have faith in myself. 

Although it is true I did not want to finish badly enough to tolerate throwing up for 40 more miles, I also believe it was not likely I could actually cover 40 miles while throwing up and eating nothing. Some day my stomach will not betray me and allow me to see what I can do. I am trained substantially better now than I was in 2010, when gifted a day that allowed me to run until the horn blew signaling us to stop.

I do often catch myself thinking, maybe races over 12 hours are just not for me and I should
stop wasting my time... and that feels more like quitting than showing up scared to death
that I am about to voluntarily walk into a pit of emotional despair on purpose. I am sure
eventually I will cut my losses and stay focused on what I do well (the shorter races) but I don't think I am done with 100s or 24s just yet.

60 miles 

- Learned I need very little to run very far (never used a drop bag and never felt I was missing anything I needed). 
- Plantar Fasciitis was not an issue without orthotics and feet hurt less than in the past.
- Got to know Zsuzsanna and truly believe I made a good friend, which is a really big deal for me as I am much less social than some may think I am.