Friday, June 23, 2017

AETR race report - part 2

So, in my last post, I talked about the details of the race. It really was a fabulous race, so I didn’t want to cloud that post with my own inner negativity. Thus, I decided to write a second post about what was going on in my head, and where I go from here.

I went into this race spectacularly undertrained. Due to craziness at work, needing to spend time with my family, and letting the crappy weather be an excuse to not get my long runs in, I only managed 1 run over 20 miles prior to this race. I rationalized a lot, saying that I ran every day, that I had run lots of long runs last summer, and I couldn’t have lost that ability over a winter of relatively short runs, etc. But in the end, it was all just excuses and justifications. The thing about excuses and justifications is that they don’t get you the training or the mental toughness that you need to keep going when things suck. But somehow, I had convinced  myself that I could keep going for 24 hours and get 75 miles in without training for it. In a nutshell, it didn’t work.

Those last 2 loops were terrible. My feet hurt, my legs were refusing to run, and probably worse, I wasn’t drinking enough water. I almost quit after my next to last loop, but at the decision point, I decided to get back out there and do another loop. I knew I would probably walk most of that loop, which turned out to be the last one, and I did. I pretty much walked all 6 miles of it. I even say down at the aid station at the halfway point and rested. I should have drank a water bottle full of water while I was there,  but I didn’t. But I finished it. A couple of other runners passing me were nice enough to ask me if I was ok. By the time I came into the finish line, I had tears running down my face.

During those last two loops, my mind was in a consistently negative state. I felt like a failure, like I couldn’t do it. I reminded myself that I got into running ultras because I am not fast and would never place in road races. Then I started thinking that I clearly can’t  succeed at running ultras either. So if I can’t run fast, and I can’t run long, why am I even running? I should just admit to myself that I suck at running and just quit running altogether.

During that last loop, I decided against signing up for any more races, especially long ones. Why should I keep running distances that don’t even feel good? Especially if I can’t even keep running the whole distance? I also decided that I wasn’t going to run Kesugi on the 24th, and I wasn’t doing Angel Creek 50 in July, and I wasn’t even doing Resurrection Pass 50 in August, that I would email the RD and tell him to take my name off the list of runners. Because clearly I can’t go that far, and I am too slow and the volunteers and the RD and everyone would just be waiting around for me finish so they could pack up and go home.

I’m really, really glad that my friend Travis wasn’t pacing me for that loop, because he would have had to listen to all that garbage. By the time I got to the finish, those thoughts and more had been circling in my head for 3 hours, so I was not in the best frame of mind. I told the RD that I was done running, even though there was 6 hours left in the race. My wonderful friends, Susie and Travis both tried to get me to rest a bit, then try to run some more, but I had already convinced myself that I couldn’t. And at that point, actually, I was probably right. If I had rested and taken the opportunity to force down a bunch of Tailwind, some apple, another popsicle, and rehydrate myself, looking back, I might have been able to switch from my handheld bottle to my hydration pack, and get another loop in, because I’m pretty sure that being dehydrated was my biggest physical problem. Instead I didn’t drink hardly anything because it all tasted repulsive and sealed my fate.

I think I said in my earlier post that I learned a lot from this race. And oh boy, did I.

1. DRINK MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. By the time you realize you are dehydrated,  you’re pretty bad off. And dehydration clouds your brain and makes it really hard to make good decisions. And carry more water than you think you are going to need, because if you don’t have it, you can’t drink it.
2. TRAIN. Who knows? I may have been able to reach my goal if I had trained for it. Without the proper training, not only didn’t I have a shot, but the last part of my race was way more miserable than it needed to be.
3. Don’t make any decisions when you are at a really low point in the race. Long races are known far and wide for putting people through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. Don’t trust your thought process during either extreme, lol.
4. Listen to your friends. I wasn’t at my best after loop 8. My friends were pushing various liquids on me, all of which I pretty much ignored  and were advising me to rest and get back out there. But I had convinced myself I was done. If I had listened to them (especially about drinking, Travis even gave me some of his Tailwind, which I promptly rejected because it was gross to me at that point), I probably could have finished at least one more loop.
5. Popsicles taste amazing when you are dehydrated.  Don’t turn down a second one because you don’t want to seem greedy. It’s not greedy if you need it. That’s what it’s there for.
6. You can do more than you think you can. When I first started running, I never would have thought I could run for 48 miles. Even by the time I started running half marathons and even marathons, the thought of running farther than that was CRAZY. Like, there’s no way I would ever do that. I had planned on making the Marine Corps Marathon my first one, and wound up running one a couple months before that just to see if running the MCM would even be possible. That was 2015. 2 years ago I didn’t know if I could even run 26 miles. Now I’ve run upwards of 30 miles 5 times, so far.
7. Celebrate your successes, and be proud of your accomplishments. Every time I think about this race, I think about the mistakes that I made, or that I didn’t run the full 24 hours, or that I had to walk the last loop so maybe that one doesn’t actually count because I didn’t run it, or that I only got 48 miles, officially. But HOLY CRAP.  I officially ran 48 miles!!! On almost no training! I ran for 18 hours!

So… where do I go from here?

Well, I’m not going to quit running. That was just crazy talk. I’m still running every day. Today will be day 310 of my second running steak. And I’m not done running long distances. Tomorrow I am running the Kesugi Ridge Traverse,  a 30 mile trail run up, onto, and along a ridge line in Denali National Park. There is a 4 hour cutoff at mile 15, and frankly, I’m a little worried about meeting it, since the first 3 miles are all uphill, and hills kick my butt. If I don’t meet it, I will be DNF’d and will  “only” be able to run the half traverse, 18 miles total, counting the trip down the mountain to the trailhead. I’m going to do my best to meet that cutoff and be able to finish.  If I don’t meet the cutoff though, I still will have had an amazing day of trail running.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m also using this run as a decision point about Angel Creek 50. I hadn’t signed up for it because of a schedule conflict, but that conflict has disappeared.  If the run goes well, I meet the cutoff and finish in the allotted time, and I don’t feel like I want to die, I will most likely sign up for AC50. If I can’t make the cutoff, or it becomes clear during the race that I’m not going to be able to manage the AC50, I’ll put it off til next year.

Either way, I am doing Resurrection Pass 50 in August. I have almost 2 months between now and then, and if I stay focused, I think I can make some progress and be ready for that race, especially since it has much less vertical gain than AC50 does. I feel pretty confident that I can do that one if I can stay focused on getting ready for it.

And with that, onward!!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Alaska Endurance Trail Run race report - part 1

This weekend, I ran my first 24 hour race, the Alaska Endurance Trail Run, in Fairbanks. Let me tell you all about it. Fairbanks is about 300 miles from where I live, so I took the day off work on Friday, and drove up there. I totally enjoyed the trip because I got to drive my new car, and the sun was shining the whole way (hello, sunroof!!). I took my 17 year old daughter and one of her friends with me to crew for me, and that was a GREAT decision, even though said 17 year old daughter did not enjoy the sunroof nearly as much as I did.

“Mom, can you please close the sunroof and turn the music down? It’s too loud.”… talk about role reversal… it’s like she’s the old lady and I’m the teenager… very weird.

The course for this race is a 6 mile loop, with an aid station at the start and finish line, and an unmanned water drop at about halfway around. Because there was such frequent opportunities for water, I didn’t feel like I needed to wear my hydration vest, and instead opted to carry a small handheld water bottle, refilling at both places each loop. The only problem with this was that on Friday morning I could not find my handheld anywhere. So when I got to Fairbanks, I made a quick stop at Beaver Sports, and got a Nathan handheld soft flask to use. It was the first time I used such a thing, and it worked pretty well, and wasn’t too cumbersome to hold. It had a strap that wrapped around my wrist so I didn’t have to grip it at all to hang on to it, just to use it.

I had arranged to have access to a friend’s cabin. Susie was also running the race, and agreed to let us stay at her place for the weekend. I went there before the race and grabbed a quick nap, since I was tired from the drive. After my nap, I got to the starting area with about an hour to get ready, which I thought would be more than enough time, but turned out to just barely be enough. There were 9 people that chose the 24 hour race, and soon enough we were all lined up at the starting line, setting our watches:

Photo credit: Chris Butcher

Susie ran the first loop with me, which was pretty helpful. The course was well marked,  but there were a couple of places where there was at least a possibility of going the wrong way if I had been by myself.  We ended the first lap feeling pretty strong:

Photo credit: Chris Butcher

That's me in the pink. The second lap I ran by myself. I started with Susie, but she had decided on a run/walk interval strategy. I had no strategy, except to walk up all the hills. I decided to simply run for as long as it felt good to run, and then walk when I needed to. I waved goodbye to Susie, and ran off when she did her first walk interval. We wound up leapfrogging each other throughout the race, I think.

Travis paced me on the third loop, and I had begun to feel the miles enough to complain about his fresh legs.  I was still moving along fairly well though, and we finished that loop right after midnight, and I said goodnight to Travis.  I told him to thank his wife for letting him spend his Friday evening pacing me. I hope he remembered  Kim, you’re awesome!!
Loop 4 and the first half of loop 5 passed without incident. At some point during these 2 loops, the sun set and rose again. The sun is just amazing during Alaskan summers, and this was one of the most amazing things about this race. Luckily I wasn’t too tired yet to appreciate it. As I was running, the sun slowly set, and the sky in that direction turned pink and orange. It never got dark, and at some indefinable point, the sunset became a sunrise, and the sun slowly rose. It was truly beautiful.

 Just after leaving the water station halfway through loop 5, my Garmin died. I am missing a good chunk of data from loop 5, which I found very annoying. When I got back to the start area, I plugged my Garmin into a portable charger, tucked it into a waist belt, changed my shoes, and put on a long sleeved shirt and long pants over my shorts and tank. I had also planned on dealing with some chafing to my chest where the band of my sports bra was rubbing, and forgot, until I took off down the trail, and noticed it within about 50 feet, and had to turn around and come back. I applied some KT tape, which was actually fairly difficult as there was no privacy and I was trying to hide in my sleeping bag and put the tape on at the same time. Then I took off down the trail again, on loop 6.

This was when things really started getting hard. By the time I was done with loop 6, I was really tired and cold. I stopped at the end of the loop, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I figured I would sleep for a little while, but didn’t wake up until heard the race director announcing the pre-race meeting for the 12 hour race, just before 8 am. I probably wound up sleeping for an hour and a half or so. To avoid the crowd, I stayed put until the new runners left, then got up and got moving again.

Probably because I had stopped running for so long, my legs were really stiff and sore when  I started loop 7, but I still managed to run about half of that loop. At that point, I started contemplating quitting. I was tired, I was hurting, and I just didn’t feel like running anymore. I even texted Travis, who was planning on running another loop with me later, saying I was done. But I knew at that point it was just because I was tired, and off I went on another loop.

Loop 8 was horrible. By then, it was late morning, and it had gotten hot out. My water bottle that needed to last 3 miles, lasted me less than a mile. By the time I got to the water station, I was really struggling to just put one foot in front of the other.  I refilled my water bottle, and sat down against a tree for a few minutes to gather strength for the last 3 miles of the loop. During the second half of that loop, a lot of it was in fields, out in the sun, and I was getting pretty dehydrated, I think. I knew I needed to drink my water, but I didn’t want to. I had to force myself to drink it, and even then, I still had a couple miles to go when I ran out.  My feet were killing me, and my quads were totally cramped up, and I felt that it was physically impossible to run. I watched fresher 12 hour and 6 hour runners go by enviously. I didn’t feel like I would ever make it back to the starting area. By the time I made it back, I felt like I was in pretty rough shape. Travis had shown up by that point, but I wasn’t able to go back out. Everyone was very helpful, and offered me Tailwind, a different flavor than what I had been  drinking the whole race, and which I suddenly found completely revolting, water, apples, etc. The only thing I could even remotely consider was a popsicle, which I accepted gratefully.

Of course, as soon as I stopped, I started shivering, which is completely normal for me. I sat in a chair, wrapped in my sleeping bag until I warmed up again and ate my popsicle. It was delicious. At that point, I knew that I really was done running. Loop 8 had taken me almost 3 hours.

I knew Travis was going to check on me when he got back from running his loop, and I know he was hoping to convince me to do another loop. I felt bad, but at that point, all I wanted was to get a shower, so I left before he got back. Sorry, Travis!! We got some dinner, then went back to be there for the end of the race.

All told, I got 8 loops, officially 48 miles, in 18 hours, although the course was just over 6 miles, so it was actually a little more. I had 2 goals for this race: to keep moving for the full 24 hours, and to get 75 miles. I had gotten 41 miles last September during a 12 hour race, so I thought that was doable. I didn’t make either of those goals, but I did go farther than  I ever have before, and I knew when to stop. Although I didn’t perform as well as I wanted, and was miserable for the last little while of the race, the race itself was amazing. The trails were all very runnable, with no exceptionally steep climbs, and the route was pretty.

The aid station was well stocked with just about everything imaginable. The volunteers and director were kind and helpful, and I lacked for absolutely nothing during the race. I brought my own fuel and only used my Tailwind and Nuun out of my own stash. I think it was a really good idea to have staggered start times so that almost everyone finished at the same time, because the finish area became a great little party, with burgers and grilled salmon, and plenty of time to trade stories and ccelebrate with friends:

We stayed the night Saturday night at my friend’s cabin, which was just overwhelmingly cute, then drove home on Sunday. Halfway home, I stopped to get my daily run in on some trails close to the highway, and managed 1.17 miles without any significant difficulty, which sort of surprised me. I’ve run every day since then, with virtually no residual soreness. I took amino acids before the start, every 4 hours during the race and immediately afterwards, and I think it helped prevent some of the soreness.

I’m definitely doing some version of this race again and I would totally encourage anyone that feels like they can do at least the 6 hour event to give it a try. It really was a great race!!!