Friday, July 25, 2014

Running with the Devil 6 hour, Mountain Creek Ski Resort, Vernon NJ. 7/19/14

Running with the Devil is by far the most difficult race I have ever run.  I do this event each year, always scared to death when I show up that I won't last more than a lap… and always end up surprised that I stay in it for the duration.

Elevation chart from two years ago… when I managed 7 laps.

This race takes place at Mountain Creek Ski Resort.  We run out of the ski lodge and up a ski slope.  The loop is 3 Miles. We climb to over 1400 ft in elevation by the time we summit at just about the halfway mark. We return down some significantly steep descents the lodge to refuel.  I do this loop for 6 hours.  Many do it for 3 hours.  Some attempt 12 hours. The grade varies with the worst of it being a stretch of about 0.3, where the snow machines are.  The grade there is 30% incline.  This part is very humbling.

Here is video made by Dave on one of his loops:

I believe Steve Tursi snapped this shot a few years ago.
This is the longest hill but not the steepests

The snow maker section pictured above. .22 mile across.  308.6 feet up.  This is hard. 

Achilles Tendonitis and Decisions to Make.
This year the heat was not as much of a factor as it has been in the past.  Still, without much shade on this course, the sun did burn my skin. I did come home more than 5 lbs lighter from dehydration, despite my conscious attempt to drink to thirst and carry a bottle the entire day.

I never go to Running with the Devil with a plan to race it.  I consider it strength training and an exercise in managing self-doubt.  But, I was very concerned this year about whether I should actually go at all.  Three weeks ago I acquired a very significant upper respiratory infection with serious chest congestion and a recurring low grade fever that I just couldn't shake.  For two weeks I delt with that cold by reducing my mileage, causing me to miss some hill training (and even work).  When finally felt better, I jumped right back into training, increasing my mileage by almost 25 miles that week.  I did my hills, raced a mid-week 4 miler, trained several runners, and was able to run a hard track workout.  But this should not have been that big of a deal.  I was running only 50 mile weeks when sick.  I bumped up to 75 miles.  Prior to getting sick I was up and over 85 miles per week.  I was hoping to be reaching 100 miles per week at this time,  but the cold set me back.  I felt the 70-75 goal was a safe compromise considering my training history.

My achilles tendons did NOT agree with my assessment.  By the very end of last week, I ended a 12 mile run with inflammation in both achilles.  I have not had this much achilles pain ever.  I could feel the swelling on my drive home.   I did 1 mile "test" runs  the next two days to track how my achilles felt (and to keep my streak alive).  By Tuesday morning, I felt better and ran 3 miles, which caused me to revert right back to experiencing painful inflammation.

Wednesday night, I pulled out several pairs of shoes of various drops and started experimenting on my treadmill. I started with the Saucony Virrata 2 that I just acquired as a prize from a recent 5k. Virrata 2's are 0 drop and OMG did this hurt A LOT.  At .03 mile into my attempt to run on my treadmill, I stopped and tried my Launch at 9.5 mm.  This was much better.  It  made me wonder what my 12 mm drop Ghosts would feel like.  This was like night and day.  In a 12 mm drop, I could run pain free.  The higher drop alleviate the tension on my achilles and I ran 5 miles without issue.  Thursday morning, I was able to run 4 more but did feel some minor aches.  I met Dave for 15 x 300's because I made a commitment.  We have a schedule to keep. My ST5 Racers are 12 mm and I was able to minimize my discomfort.  We do some great work at the track and nothing hurts me during our workout, but by the cool down I was back to feeling pain.  UGH! At this point, I tell Dave that I was very very concerned about Running with the Devil, especially knowing my trail shoes are 4mm drop (NB WT 1010v2) and there was nothing I could do about this because those were the shoes I would wear on that course.

Race Day
During my morning coffee,  I ruminate about what to do. I paid. I love this race.  I can't remember if I have ever missed this race.  I could have.  But maybe not.  I will have to check later. I would hate to not go.

I tell Sidney that I will go, but if I find that I can't run it because of my achilles, I'll just come home early.  I truly expected to get up there, hike a lap, and then come home.  That made me sad, but I really had to get there or I would feel even more disappointed.

On the deck, I fill a small handheld. I check on Dave who started his 6 hour even early because, as he told me 17 TIMES in the last week, he had to get out to PA that afternoon for a party.  As he ran by, I asked him if he had any plans for the rest of the day ;).  He was flying and there was no way I could have hung with him had we started together.

Lap 1
The 3 and 6 hour runners runners meander off the deck with no sense of urgency.  I jog a little to the first incline. As we start to climb I realize I am in HUGE trouble. My achilles are on fire when I try to run up hill and I am only about a few tenths into this race. I consider turning back. Oh Boy.  This Does Not Look Good. I start walking. This hurts less.

I hook up with Sean and we start chatting.  He tells me he doesn't feel fully prepared for this race.  I tell him I am going home after one loop because I have some tendonitis that hurts a lot on the ups .  I tell him I need to walk because running hurts but walking seems to be manageable.  I am terrified about the 30% grade and I am not sure what I am going to do.

Sean and I make decent time hiking most of the up hill.  Even though there are some runnable parts we could have run, I take things very very easy because I don't want to tear anything.  The race is a slow motion test of attrition and I know that those running hard are either in the 3 hour or they will wish they were.  We are able to run much of the downhill.   I am happy to get my consecutive mile plus some on the first lap.

The descent takes a lot of pressure off my achilles and I am feeling comfortable. I tell Sean that if he wants company for lap 2 I am going for a second but I need to do something about my socks.

I had two pairs of new Feetures socks I bought a few weeks ago.  The socks have caused me more trouble than they were worth for me.  I want to like them but I just don't think they are for me.   Being a complete idiot, I pack both pairs of the new socks, only.  Two of the exact same pairs of socks… and the socks were not working for me.  They feel good when I put them on.  But one pair lasted one run before the seams came undone. Feetures sent me a new pair.  Today, the socks did not stay put.  The inclines were so steep that my socks would slip into my shoes and bunch up in my arches. I have never had this problem with other socks at this race.

Lap 2 and beyond
At the lodge, I decided to just get rid of the socks altogether.  I was concerned I was going to turn my feet into chopped meat.  Grit and dirt were getting in my shoes.  I suspected I would leave at lap 2. Those sock were so uncomfortable that I knew I could not complete another lap with them on.  So off Sean and I went and I hoped my feet would survive.

Sean and I spent another lap together, talking about all things running… hydration, salt, sugar.  The conversation was so engaging that before we knew it we were at the summit in good time.  We were still being conservative.  We discussed what we needed to do to prepare for Lap 3.  And it was now clear that dropping out was no longer an option for me.

My feet survived without socks.  My achilles were hurting no more or no less than lap one.  Our pace was survival mode but we both know the race is about survival.

We headed out for lap three and we continued our discussion right where we left off.  We discussed racing, how many races is too many racing… shoes, hokas, vibrams, minimalism, maxi-minis or whatever, altras, low drop, high drop… barefoot running, barefoot running records, barefoot running records in the sand, … runners who run barefoot,  ultras people have running barefoot, other races worth running with shoes.

Next thing we knew, we were past the half way mark.  We discussed a little about science and biology.  I learned that Sean is a biologist.  That is very impressive.  We talked about keeping track of data and doing studies on ourselves. We talked about some horrible things we have read about hydration rate and how sometimes it is clear that people giving advice have not actually done the things they recommend.  We talked about Born to Run (yes, still people still talk about Born to Run at ultras… but now it is more about the book being fiction and a good story rathe than it being the answer to all ultra running prayers).  We talked about how Jurek would supposedly take flour tortillas out with him on his runs.  I asked Sean if he ever tried this.  I have and it was horrible.  It turns into a ball of flour paste in your mouth.  Yuck.  This is not a good idea at all. :)

We started to talk about race strategy.  Laps are taking us about 50 minutes or so.  We were in no rush.  But we had timing to consider.  At 30 minutes left we can start small laps.  How will this work?  We had either enough time for 3 x 45 minute laps or we could do 2 x 50+ minute laps and then wait to start the smalls.   I figured it would depend on where I was in the standing to make that decision.

I noticed I was 5th place. I wasn't sure where the others were.  They were only a lap ahead of me.  I didn't know if I could catch them.  But,  I knew I could not run up the hills without hurting myself.   I also knew I was getting tired.  I wasn't eating much.  This was not on purpose, it was just because I didn't feel hungry.  My gatorade that I hope to use for calories remained frozen all day.  I ended the day sorely under-fueled, having had consumed 12 oz of gatorade (80 calories) , 4 oz of Mt Dew (120 calories), 3 Pringles (possible 20 calories?), 1 wedge of watermelon (nothing significant) and last minute desperate attempt to get sugar in the form of one nauseating Hammer Gel. (100 calories).  This is about 320 calories during the race.  I did have some gatorade and Mt Dew prior to the start along with a banana (abt 400 calories).  The rest of the day I drank water.  No sodium was taken.  Nothing else.  So that is about 6 hours of mountain climbing off of 720 calories.   Not nearly enough.

I admitted to Sean that I didn't have 45 minute laps in me so I was planning on 2 more bigs and then start the smalls.  By the 6th big, I was bonking hard.  At one point I asked Sean if were going in the right direction!  LOL   I took my time on the last big because I knew we could not start the smalls until 30 minutes to go anyway.  My achilles were getting tired again and I want to be careful.

We got down to the Lodge with just under 30 minutes left and I noticed I was now in 4th place.  We headed out for a small and that is when that gel I took just before we left the lodge was not sitting well. Up the hill we went and I knew I was done.  I took my time, noticing no ladies behind me and none in front I could catch or see.  I told Sean to go on without me.  I was toast.  He had energy. He was amazing in those last 30 minutes.  Had I stayed with him I could have caught the women!

With 15 minutes left, I did an assessment of the leader board.  I could do a second lap and finish one half mile behind the top three ladies but I could not catch any.  I could not be caught by the 5th place woman.   I could get around once more but my achilles were hurting now so I decided to not go.  I was afraid I would tear my tendons in the last 10 minutes of a run I should have never been able to complete.

I decided to stop and call it a day.

I have to thank Sean from the bottom of my heart for hanging out with me all day.  He was great company.  The conversation was so engaging that I almost forgot I was climbing a mountain.  I don't have that type of experience with a fellow runner often. To be truthful, in ultra running, this does happen to us runners.  We all have stories about trail camaraderie and the connections we make out there while struggling through adversity.  We latch on to people.  We become instant friends and offer genuine support.  We want to help each other in the face meet the challenges.  This type of things does NOT happen in marathon running.  This is part of why we run ultras. Even this has happen to many of us, it is still special with it does. I have run enough ultras to know that when you end up spending 6 hours side-by-side with someone and the time just flies by, that is a remarkable experience and it should be appreciated. So thank you Sean for spending that day with me! :)

The other thing about Running with the Devil worth sharing is that this race is an exercise in adversity management.  Year after year it reminds me that I CAN do a lot more than I believe I can do but only if I stop making things so hard on myself.  Even though the mountain is what it is, I can still control a lot of the details of the challenge, if I just leave my ego behind, if I just focus on the lap I am in, if I work on managing my resources and taking care of myself as needed, and if I dont worry about what anyone else is doing. When I just keep moving forward despite wanting to stop,  I end up coming down the mountain 6 hours later more impressed with myself that I imagined I could be when making the drive to the race.

Life is hard. Sometimes we just need to slow down and not let the mountain eat us alive.  Sometimes slow and steady is truly the right way to go.

Total Distance: 6 x 3 mile big loops and 1 half mile small.  18.5 miles
Time: 5:45-ish
Place 4th female.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Woodbridge Run for Pizza 4 Mile, Woodbridge, NJ. 7/9/14

photo by Mike Mooney
This race wasn't really on my calendar, but two days before Martin texted me to ask if I was going.  Asking me if I am going to race is almost as good as compelling me to be there.  I decided that I had to go.  After all, it was about a mile away.

I had to train a client a few hours before the start and also ran with another runner in the morning.  The race would round my mileage out to 14 for the day which would make me happy.

It was hot and humid at 88 degrees, which is to be expected in July.  I almost decided to stay home because of this, but I really needed to race.  I have been sick for two weeks with a wicked chest cold.  I rarely ever get sick with colds, but someone carried some serious germs onto our unit and half the staff ended up very very sick, me included. I was worried about how this race would go for me considering the circumstances.

I told Sidney that Martin would be there and he decided he would go as well.  Martin then decides he can't make it. LOL. But then he shows up to get Joanne's packet, which some how now resides in my trunk! Sometime it is better to just not pay attention.

After a mile warm up, Iwant this race to hurry up and be over.  The gun goes off and I get a fast start off the line.  Soon one woman blasts past me and I try to stay close enough to her to get a sense of what she is doing.  She is moving very fast and I wonder if this will last.  She is pulling away from me by the half mile mark.  I can tell I am running too fast already and decided to let her go. I look at my watch and I am sub-6. I slow down.  Sub-6!  LOL

I am surprised that I don't feel horrible.  I just feel hot.  I am not as tired as I thought I would be. M1 6:25

I concede that unless the first chick blows up completely, she is going to win.  By around mile 2, a second female comes up to my side and slowly passes me.  I make this very easy for her, as I have slowed significantly. I am sitting right where I thought I should be at this point pace-wise and it is too soon for me to get back into a deficit.  I let her go and hope to stay in range by the time we crest the hill in the last mile. M2: 6:53

At this point, I am starting to fight to hold my pace and I feel the impact of the heat and the last two weeks "off".  Runners are spread out and there are enough turns that allow views of the course behind us and I can't see where the next female is.  I am glad that I have a shot at holding 3rd, but it is still to early to be sure. M3: 7:00

There is one hill to crest before a flat finish. I work hard to get my pace back down after slowing a lot on the incline. I manage to finish strong, inspired by cheering from Mike Mooney who took the photo above.  It is really motivating to hear your name when digging gets hard to do.  I was so glad to see that finish line.  It was especially nice to see Sidney and Martin cheering me in.  M4: 6:53

Last time I ran this race, I remember the awards taking a bit of time.  We got some pizza and I walked to the car to get some things to sit on.  As I got back, they had already started.  I mentioned to Sidney that they were doing awards now.  He was engrossed in conversation with Martin and Nuno.  They started with Overall Women, 3rd place first.  I was the first name called, got my plaque, sat back down and waited for Sidney and Martin to pause in their conversation, which happened promptly… giving Sidney a moment to notice my plaque and ask… "What's that? I missed it? When did that happen?" LOL!

Time 27:20
Place 3rd OA Female