Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Long Run

So, as I said in my last post, I had a really hard time with the Midnight Sun marathon. This really worried me because I have a 50 mile race coming up, and if I have trouble running 26.2, how am I going to run 50? The marathon was supposed to be the next to longest training run for the 50 miler, and it didn’t seem to bode well that I struggled so much.

The following weekend, my plan was to do a 31 mile trail run. I really had a hard time deciding where to do it. I thought the ideal thing would be a 10-15 mile loop, so I could have my own aid station at my car, but I couldn’t think of anything that was a long loop like that. I wound up deciding to do the Gold Mint trail in Hatcher’s Pass. The Gold Mint trail is about 8 miles long, and it goes gradually uphill, to the end where it suddenly goes up the side of a mountain to a bowl on the other side. I thought I could do the first 7 miles or so, then repeat.  I knew from a previous run that the first 4 miles are very runnable and I *assumed* that most of the rest was too. Hmm.

I just never get tired of this view.

I wound up going about 6 miles up the trail, which was a mistake. In the current, fairly wet conditions, a short way past the mile 4 marker, the trail becomes very muddy with large puddles to navigate. In addition there were lots of very rocky areas, streams to cross, and beaver dams to navigate around. I really wasted a lot of time between mile 4 and mile 6, and back to mile 4, hiking instead of running because of the terrain. It wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, except that I had told my hubby how long I thought I would be based on thinking I would be able to run most of it.
By turning around at mile 6, I only got 12 miles of trail, and I wanted 16. On the way back to the car, I  decided to turn around again at the 1 mile marker, run to the 3 mile marker, then turn  around again and head back to the car. That worked out great to get me 16 miles. I was going to then run from  the trailhead to the mile 4 marker and back twice, giving me the next 16 miles, but the last couple miles, it stared raining and didn’t look like it was going to stop. I knew the weather was better down in  the valley, so I decided to leave Hatcher’s Pass and go to the Matanuska Greenbelt, which has 33 miles of really nice trail, but virtually no elevation gain, which is why I didn’t just go there to start with.

I wasn’t planning to take Daisy on this run, because it was going to be such a long run, but she figured out I was going and got all excited,  so I relented. By about mile 2 I regretted this.  Running with her on the leash on the bike path works great. Running with her on leash on a trail, not so much. On a narrow trail, she is right in front of me instead of beside me and her body blocks my view of the trail ahead of me, making it necessary to go much slower, so I can avoid rocks and roots. If I let her off the leash, she is still distractable enough to jump on people we pass and take off into the brush and let us get separated. When I got to the 3 mile mark, I let her off leash, and spent way too much time calling her, looking for her, or waiting for her. I also at one point had to stop her from stealing a sandwich from  someone sitting right on the trail eating his lunch. She really had a good time on this run, and she was a dirty, wet, happy dog by the time we were done.


As I was heading out of Hatcher’s Pass, as soon as I got cell phone service, I called my hubby and made arrangements for him to meet me and get the dog so I could finish the run on my own. All in all, I spent maybe an hour and a half or two hours driving  between spots and waiting for him,  which cut into my running time. I was pretty sure the parking lot at the Matanuska Lake trailhead closed at 10, which only left me a little over 3 hours by the time I got there.

As I was getting ready to run, I ran into a running friend and his wife, and chatted with them for a little while. Turns out he is going to let me use his satellite tracker for the 50 miler, which is awesome. By the time I was actually running it was a few minutes after 7, so I knew I wouldn’t get the 16 miles I had planned. But I took advantage of all the time I had, and got back to my car with just a few minutes to spare,  after running almost 12.5 miles. I forgot to reapply DEET, though, which was a huge mistake. Every time I slowed to a walk, like to go up a hill, the damn mosquitos caught up to me. Those little suckers even bit me through my compression socks. I had huge welts on the back of my calves when I was done.

At one point, I twisted my ankle, and in catching myself from falling, I somehow stubbed my toe or something.  It immediately felt like I had ripped a toenail off. I sat down in the trail and took my shoe and sock off to investigate,  and wound up using my sock to swat the stupid mosquitos away. I hadn’t ripped off my toenail, and there was no visible damage, so I carefully put my sock and shoe back on and continued. For the first minute or so it hurt really bad and I thought I might have to limp back or call for a ride from the nearest trailhead,  but within a few minutes, the pain gradually disappeared and I was fine.

Although there were several things that happened to make this run complicated, from the weather, to the dog, to almost injuries,  I felt really good the whole time. I would up running almost exactly 28 miles, which isn’t the 31 I hoped  but was all I had time for. I stopped because I ran  out of time, not because I was too tired. I totally could have kept running.  My legs were a little sore the next day, but by evening, they were fine and I had no lingering soreness the second day.

I had a 1.5 liter Camelbak with me, and I put 6 scoops of Tailwind in it, learning from my marathon mistakes. I refilled it between runs, and it really hit the spot. I also ate a 200 calorie nutrition bar as soon as I got back in the car at Hatcher’s Pass, to give it as much time to digest before I started running again as possible. The combination seems to have been perfect.

I also changed my socks and shoes between runs. My socks and shoes had gotten soaked at Hatcher’s, and I wanted to experiment with changing halfway through anyway, to see if that was something I would want to do during  my 50 miler. I was barefoot from  the time I got into the car at Hatcher’s until I got to Matanuska Lake, and I think my feet really benefited from the breathing time, and from  the fresh shoes and socks. I will definitely be putting a change in my mile 30 drop bag.

I felt like I learned a lot from this run, and it really increased my confidence in my ability to finish the 50 miler. I think I’m about as ready as I can be. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Anchorage Mayors Midnight Sun Marathon

It’s all in your head.

First, let me tell you about the course. Except for the first few miles, it’s beautiful. The first few miles, you are running along a bike path along the Glenn Highway, heading out of Anchorage. The bike path is maybe 20 feet or so off the highway, goes gradually but steadily uphill, and it’s probably the least pleasant part of the course. Once you leave the bike path, you run along a street crossing the highway, and continuing for another couple miles towards the foothills flanking the west side of Anchorage. From there you transition to tank trails used by the military. The tank trails are very hard packed gravel.

 You then traverse a very short (less than half a mile) single track trail through the woods, and emerge onto the Chester Creek bike path that meanders through town in an elongated greenbelt, which you follow until you reach Westchester Lagoon. From Westchester, you wind through neighborhood streets up some fairly steep hills, to the finish on the Park Strip in downtown  Anchorage. As an aside, it seems like sheer torture to make you run up steep hills at mile 25 of a marathon, but by that time you know you’re almost done and just want to get to the finish anyway.

I really, really struggled with this race. It was way harder than it should have been. Part of it is my own fault. I was very tired. I stayed up late, then had trouble sleeping. At some point, with all my tossing and turning, I worried about sleeping through my alarm, which made it even harder to sleep. Never mind that I never manage to sleep through my alarm on work days. I’m not sure why I so often think I will on race day. My alarm went off, and I did wake up, a couple hours earlier than normal. With the late, restless night, and early morning, I was exhausted before I even started. The other major physical issue was my stomach. For whatever reason, I struggled with an upset stomach for the first half of this race, and spent an inordinate amount of time in port-a-johns along the course. (TMI, I know. You’re welcome.)

But I think that what really did me in was my own mind. From when we first got out on the bike path along the highway, my brain was stuck being Negative Nelly and I could not shake it. I probably spent 25 of the 26.2 miles thinking about how hard this run was, how running along the highway sucked, how hot I was, how my new hydration pack was too loose and moving around too much, how crappy my stomach felt, and later, how much my feet hurt, etc.
 I do remember having a couple of minutes on the single track trail enjoying running through the woods. And there was a spot around mile 15 that I remember being glad that my stomach had settled down and that I was starting to feel ok. Of course that thought was promptly followed up by “yeah, now that the race is more than half over.” I also spent way more time than I should have telling myself that I didn’t really care that I wasn’t going to meet my time goal, because after all, this is really just a training run. I kept trying to shrug it off and just enjoy the run, but I couldn’t. And by the time I got to the hills at the end of the course, they were just one more thing to get through before the finish and I could stop running.

This was a really weird experience for me, because I generally really enjoy running. If I had the thoughts on every run that I had all through this race, I would hate running!
I really don’t think any of this was due to the race itself. The course really was beautiful,  and aid stations and port-a-potties were every 2 or 3 miles. And once I passed the halfway point, all of the aid stations had orange wedges. I have to say, those orange wedges were little slices of heaven!

I put Tailwind in my hydration pack, and as I have done successfully before,  I made it about half the recommended strength, and planned on supplementing with typical running fuel; gels, sports beans, or honey stingers.  The Tailwind was fine, but with my stomach acting up, I couldn’t manage the other fuel. Even M&M’s they were handing out at about mile 12 did not go down well. I definitely would have been better off this day with the Tailwind at full strength, and only using that. Like I said, though, the orange wedges were wonderful, juicy and sweet, and they didn’t upset my stomach at all.

By about mile 20, my feet were getting very sore, but once I realized that they hurt less when I was running than when I was walking, I just kept running. I eventually crossed the finish line, for which I was thankful.

There was a first aid tent with ice baths for your feet, and I took advantage of that. The ice water hurt and felt good at the same time. After that, since once I was done running, my stomach felt a little better.  I had some cinnamon bread from Great Harvest Bread Company, and half a grilled cheese sandwich from Franz Bread, which went a long ways to restoring me. I was in a much better mood after that.