Thursday, July 22, 2010

Whistlestop vs Moose Mountain

It seems the Half Voyageur has given me the longer-distance-on-trails bug. I had already been eying up the Moose Mountain Marathon since earlier this year, back when I didn't think I would be needing a fall marathon to get that elusive 3:30. Now I'm looking at the schedule thinking it might be a bit much - a trail marathon on September 11, a 'road' marathon on October 9 and my first ultra (50K) on October 16. I think were I not trying for a 3:30 at Whistlestop and wanting a decent performance at Wild Duluth then it'd be not as stupid.

Actually, here's a little secret (since this isn't a Northland Runner post): I'm toying with the idea of not doing Whistlestop and doing Moose Mountain instead. This would mean, however, no Boston 2011.

I'm of a couple minds about this. I'll be doing the Florida Keys Ragnar in January which means that also doing Boston is TWO high priced races requiring flights just a few months apart. Right now I can't even afford Ragnar and I'm just hoping things work out so adding another high priced registration in October (when Boston opens up) might not even work. Boston isn't going anywhere nor is my ability to run a BQ.

On the other hand, I LOVE Boston. Even though I had a miserable time, I still had a fantastic time crazy as that is. I want to go back in Wave One and run well. I want to not be mistaken for a charity runner. I have friends from Duluth also doing Boston 2011 and a MegaTough teamie who has said she'll head out with me, too. Moose Mountain is not going anywhere. I also am trying to march my way to an ambitious future time goal and it's probably important to do another marathon this year that helps advance that.

It depends on the day as to which way I'm leaning. It also depends on if you ask me while I'm out running trails or not :) Right now, I think I'll regret it if I don't try for my 3:30 again this year so that's probably what my answer should be.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From NR - Half Voyaguer Race Report

I'm not sure why this should be surprising but I LOVED the Half Voyageur! I had an absolute blast! Thanks a billion to Gene and all the volunteers for putting on such an awesome race. All the aid stations were great and it was wonderful to have mowed trails to run on since 26 miles of unmowed would have been much less fun.

I had no idea what kind of a pace to do once we started. It was so hard to restrain from wanting to sprint around the single line of walking that happened right away! I knew things would clear up soon enough and this was 26.2 miles, so there was plenty of time and no use fretting since no one else was. Just so strange feeling, though! So once we cleared that, we headed out on a nice wide gravely trail/road for a while. It was hard, again, to figure out the right pace. I knew the trail was going to throw plenty of nasty at us and worked about to find something comfortable. I was passing a lot of people but I figured I might as well stretch my legs out a little and find a nice pace while I could even if people ended up passing me back.

There's only a couple of spots along the way that I hadn't run before and the beginning was one of them. I didn't have a very good idea of HOW we got from the zoo up to Skyline and was going along when I found myself thinking "Gee, this looks a lot like the Rolling Stone course. But it can't be, we're much too far away, still." And then we came to the river crossing and we had, in fact, been on the course! I couldn't believe how close we were to it!

I have to say, I felt like we were cheating - getting up to Skyline should have involved some MUCH steeper climbs. I was very happy to find it all relatively easy. I walked part of a hill in there that wasn't too bad (on the Rolling Stone course somewhere, I think) but decided I would walk hills over X grade with the idea that walking when I chose early on might keep me from walking when I didn't choose later on. I think it worked pretty well.

So I loved all the nasty stuff. Jarrow's Beach was great. I had nice people in front of me who let me bounce around them, so I wasn't slowed down beyond what the course does. I wasn't expecting what it was, though - it's basically a ravine that you run in. This ravine's botton is covered in large, irregular and sharp moss covered rocks that are pretty much not runable. You just sort of bounce from rock to rock while super thankful that it's not raining because it would be so super dangerous wet. Then you come out on nice flat trail before heading right back up Skyline. On unmowed snowmoblie trail. Through what would have been knee or higher deep mud had we not detoured around into the woods. Which meant cutting your own trail and getting rather scratched up. Huzzah!

In Zapp's Loop, I passed a guy in white that I would end up playing tag with quite a bit. It seemed he was a bit stronger at the uphill and I was stronger at the downhill. I lost him for good after the Power Lines (capitalized!) and didn't see him finish so I hope I just missed him since I wasn't paying close attention.

I loved the Power Lines. I was with my guy in white and a group of three other guys came up behind us and we all went through it together which made it pretty fun. I'll admit, I was worried on the first one and had to remind myself that the rest aren't as bad. How to describe the Power Lines to those who haven't run them? The first one you are more or less on all fours for and can't believe that you'll still have something like 10 miles to go after trashing your quivering quads. They are hills you wouldn't ski down. They're scary to 'run' down, though it's more of a semi-controlled falling. After what I thought was the last one, I let out a loud holler that made my friend in white looked back at me rather like I was crazy so I explained that it was the end of the Power Lines. I was wrong. When I ran the course with Lisa, Ron and Shaun earlier, we had missed the turn back in and I didn't realize there was more. My friend (damn, I wish I had asked his name), also being a newbie to the race, didn't correct me and, in fact, told me to go around him since I seemed to have energy :) I felt so bad when I came out to see one more hill to go down and up! I was sure I'd have a chance to apologize since he was stronger on the uphill but he never caught me again. So if you're reading this, friend in white with a backpack water carrier, thanks for the fun and I'm sorry to have mislead you!

Coming up that last Power Line hill, I had a Northwoods teamie tell me I was in third! Third! I wasn't even thinking about placement (beyond being excited when passing a woman on the way up Zapp's Loop) so I was shocked to hear it. I decided to be happy but try not to dwell on it and keep doing my thing.

Here I am at the Grand Portage aid station (just after the Power Lines) saying "Did you say frozen grapes?!" They were amazing, by the way. How Eve managed to keep them frozen is a mystery but I loved them! I had decided to throw water on my head at this station after the heat of the Power Lines (no shade!) only to have the grapes make me forget :)

I didn't mind the miles and miles of up after the Grand Portage aid station too much. It was very pretty and I tried to focus on making the conscious decision to walk instead of letting the course beat me into walking without noticing. Coming into the next aid station, I knew I needed some sort of salty stuff. I tried a cracker but it wasn't good so I just poured some salt straight into my hand and licked it up. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. More frozen grapes.

I think I was mentally the worst off on the ski trails right before coming onto the Munger the first time - something about a ski trail makes a slow pace feel so much slower and more painful. I felt like I was putzing along and barely moving and luckily came up on Shane then. I was sad to see him since it meant he wasn't having a good day but it was nice to know that other runners struggling at that point, too.

Then came Forbay's Lake! Right after entering the trail on the other side of the road, I felt like throwing up. I was 100% sure I was going to - the saliva in the mouth, the fake heat, all of it! But nothing. I tried to run but it just jiggled everything and was miserable. That whole section the ski trails was rough - I could barely run downhill and was excited for uphill since that meant I had 'permission' to walk. It was in here that a woman went by me, putting me in 4th. I think she might have passed me even had I not been nauseous, though, because she was moving pretty strong. I think her name was Amanda? We chatted back on Jarrow's Beach and she's super nice. Sadly, I was not very coherent as she went by me here but I at least managed a "good job" I tried to take a gel but it just wasn't happening which makes me think maybe my body was over-carbed? I've read that taking in more than your stomach can handle can cause you to feel like hurling. I think I need to scale back to every 45 or 50 minutes instead of every 40. I found Kyle as my stomach was settling back down right before Jay Cooke but I handed off my opened gel since I didn't want any anymore. I still had a couple in reserve, so I figured I'd be fine.

Well, I probably should have made myself take another gel because those last 3 1/2 miles were sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo long. Holy man. Well, I thought it was only 3 miles so that made it worse, too. In hind sight, I think a good deal of my stumbling about was a sign of needing more food and I ended up with 2 left over gels not counting the one I didn't really take when I should have only had one left over (I threw in an extra in case something happened and I was out on the trail much longer that I anticipated). Which means I should have taken one somewhere and completely forgot. It turns out to be harder than expected to keep track of taking fuel when you don't have a water station every couple of miles to base it off of. I think I added up my 40 minutes wrong somewhere in there, too, which is rather embarrassing to think about. Perhaps setting my watch timer to go off isn't such a bad idea.

So those last 3 1/2 miles had lots of stumbling and trying to run in between rocks and roots. Thinking to myself "Okay. 5th woman is running right now. YOU have to run." Which is the only time I was at all trying to be competitive. In fact, right before Seven Bridges (about half way in), I ended up in-between my guy in white and another women (guess I was second woman at that point) and I realized "Hey. This is making me race and I don't want to race right now. I want to enjoy this." So I let her go by and had a great time by myself on the trails. In fact, with a rare exception, every time I started hurting I took a look around and remembered how awesome trail running is and it helped me enjoy again.

I came in smiling (with eyes closed, of course!) and collected my awesome 4th woman mug. Also! A women kitty-corner from the finish had her hose hooked up to a shower head-like attachment and was letting runners take showers, which was fantastic. I really had wanted to go swimming as I was stumbling along next to the river but this was pretty good too.

Only one complaint about this race! Shirt size options were large and extra-large. I tried in vain to shrink my shirt so I might have to turn it into a bag.

I'll be back next year for sure! I was so happy the whole time that I decided to do it. I'm afraid I might be hooked on longer trail races!

Friday, July 9, 2010

From NR: Time for a trail marathon!

Okay. So, I've talked about running the Half Voyageur for the last couple of years but always backed out of it by the time it came around. Often for heat related concerns. Last year, I wanted to try a three-peat at a 5K near Grand Rapids (foiled!). This year I almost signed up for it before Grandma's but decided to wait and see how Grandma's treated me, always a smart move, knowing how Grandma's has trashed my body before. Then I didn't sign up right away afterward, either, even though I was feeling fine. But. I did request the weekend off from work specifically for the race.

The closer it got, the more I started waffling. My legs haven't felt all that fantastic recently, though they felt great almost immediately after Grandma's. So they're probably just tired because I've been upping my miles back up to where I want them and have gone back to lifting and swimming after taking a break just before and for a full week after the race. Even so, I've been thinking that 26 miles of trails just sounds evil.

And then there's the weather. It's been so hot and humid. Yuck. But! I've been running in it. It's been gross, but I've still been out there. Sometimes waiting specifically until 11, if my work schedule allowed, so that it's a little hotter so that I get used to it more. I'm much better then I have been, but I still feel as though I have less heat/humidity tolerance than the normal person which doesn't translate well to a hot and humid race. Happily, it starts at 6am!

Next add in that I don't get all my weekends off. This is my last weekend off that I don't have booked up for other things for a while. I want to go to my parents house and see them and my grandma. My aunt, uncle and cousin from Montana will also be around this weekend. My sister and nephew are home. My close high school friends are going on a short canoeing trip this weekend. I wanted to go home instead.

There were several times in the last couple of weeks where I was sure I wasn't going to race this weekend. And then I would decide that I really DID want to run it but then I would think about the weather and going home. My sister was also trying to get her little guy baptized this weekend while she was home and since Kyle and I are the god-parents (of the cutest little boy in the world!) it's pretty important for us to be there! Well, my sister called me yesterday and I don't think I realized how much I wanted to race until she said that she HAD been able to arrange for the baptism to happen and my heart sank. And then she said that it wasn't until almost 5 on Saturday and I was super happy again! I could race in the morning, shower at Jay Cooke and then head home in plenty of time. Huzzah!

So that is my plan! I was super hyper last night once I figured out a plan and Kyle okayed his role in the logistics.

Of course, I usually have the full week before a race to spread my nerves out. Suddenly deciding 33 hours beforehand that a race is going to happen made my nerves pounce this morning! It's all very ridiculous, though, as I have nothing to be nervous about. There's no time goal, no placement goal, I'm just heading out for a 26 mile trail run with a bunch of friends. So why did I wake up with my stomach all a flutter? I'm so happy, again, that I found something I can eat race day mornings even with an unsettled stomach. Three cheers for Boost - as I told a friends this morning, it's a tasty and much less fiber filled variety of Ensure!

So good luck to everyone racing this weekend, in the Half Voyageur or anything else out there. I'll be sure and post a report much faster than I got my Grandma's report out!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From NR: Finally, my Grandma's Report!

Hmmm. It's been a while again, hasn't it? This was a harder race report to write - I don't think I've been more disappointed immediately after a race. Don't worry, though, I'm not dwelling much, now and I know some good things came out of it this year.

So . . . let's start with the good things:
~ No matter how miserable I was feeling, the individual miles never dragged. I never felt as though I was making no progress.
~ While walking definitely occurred, never for very long and I ran the entire last 3 miles.
~ I have never felt stronger at a Grandma's finish.
~ Despite feeling as though there was NO possible way to take another gel and not throw it right back up, I ate every one on schedule and had no problems at all with them. Which means I've finally found fuel that will work no matter the weather conditions - huzzah!
~ I met an awesome runner around 16 or 17 who chatted with me (well, mostly TO me since I couldn't talk much, but I really appreciated it!) for a few miles. I finally let her go just as we were getting into town so I hope she did what she wanted.
~ I recovered at the finish (and after the race) fairly quickly.

On to race day:

I woke up Saturday morning at the campground and . . . I could see the lake! I did a little dance - seeing the lake means the humidity isn't so ridiculous. Non-ridiculous humidity was something I could handle. Time for food. Now, I don't think I've talked about all my experimenting for race day breakfast this training go-round. The last couple of years, my stomach/nerves seem to have gotten worse and worse - on race day morning, I can barely eat anything be it a marathon or a 5K. Now, it's okay to just get down a piece of toast for a 5K but it's not such a good idea for longer races and I've been trying to figure out what my stomach might tolerate come race morning. I've been doing Malt-O-Meal the last couple of years but, again, come race morning I can only get down about half of what I usually eat. Plus there's the whole - 'oh shit! My hotel room doesn't have a microwave!' problem. I'd read some things about meal replacement beverages being a good thing to try, so I experimented with a couple varieties and found that strawberry flavored Boost works great! Plus - it requires no prep so it's stress free and easily packable. Come race morning, I had no problem drinking it all down - great news!

I had laid out all my race clothes the night before and brought them out for dressing. Hmmmmm. Where are my pace bands? I printed them off, grabbed the tape to laminate them and I'm sure they made it in my bag. Hmmmmm. Can't find them anywhere. Okay. No problem. I know I need to run 8:12s for a 3:35 and even 8s for a 3:30 so I know where abouts I need to be without the band.

I had been thinking about having my parents just drop me off on the side of the highway across from the starting area. I get so annoyed waiting for the buses to slowly drive down to the drop off area. It takes a couple of minutes to get to the starting area from the pickup spot and then it takes 15 minutes to hang out there waiting until they let us off. Really, though, I get on the first bus out of the Super One lot in Two Harbors so there's plenty of time so I decided to follow the rules and take the bus. Good Sam.

Time to jump right into the porta-potty line. Get to the front, take my turn and head right back to the back of the line. I figured I didn't have anything better to do :) Connie joined the line next to me and slightly behind. Showing my usual flair for picking the worst line, Connie got through her line several minutes before me. In fact, when I hard the Star Spangled Banner going on, I decided to ditch the line and head to the start so I wouldn't miss the jet fly-over. Going by the number of people still in line, I'm not sure how they all made it through before the start. Since it was lower humidity and the sun was hiding at the start with some threatening looking clouds, I decided against the small water bottle I brought. I think that was a good decision - I didn't have to carry it around and I never really needed it. It's super comfortable but why carry what you don't need to, right? So all I needed to carry was my homemade gel pouch in my left hand. I shall update with details later!

My "stars align" goal was 3:30 and lining up at the start, I was pretty confident. I felt good, the weather looked great and I might as well just start at that pace and see what happens and how long it felt good. I think it probably would have been smarter to stick to 3:35 pace from the beginning (a difference of about 12 seconds/mile) but who knows what that would have changed. I wanted to hang out just behind the 3:30 pace balloons but could only find the 3:40 pacers in the starting crowd. I found a nice open spot a decent amount in front of them, though, and ran into Connie again. It was nice to be next to a friend at the start.

Off goes the starting horn and away we go!

My first couple miles are a little fast and I realize I'm catching up to the 3:30 balloons faster than I should so I back off a bit. I find my pace and hang out just behind the wall of people that make up the 3:30 group. Things go along pretty smoothly, actually: 7:47, 7:53, 7:56, 8:02, 8:02, 8:08, 8:03, 8:14, 8:18, 8:07. I'm comfortable where I'm at and feel strong. Then, all of a sudden, comes mile 11. Nothing too traumatic, I just suddenly look up and realize the balloons look further ahead of me and my watch is saying 8:31. Strange. The next mile - not any better. Suddenly, my body is acting strange and not responding. I tried not to really panic, since it was early on but I was nauseous and finding it hard to breathe and so it would continue for most of the rest of the race.

It was really, really frustrating. I felt as though my body was acting like it was hot and humid out and here it was, a perfectly lovely day. Okay, it wasn't PERFECT weather, but it was pretty damn nice and loads better than it has been in the past so what was up? I'm not sure at all and I don't like it. This is my first marathon that went wrong where I haven't been to pinpoint exactly WHAT went wrong. I was frustrated with myself and disappointed at my inability to get it back in as I fell further and further back. I've had plenty of training runs where there's some iffy miles that I just have to plow through and then I come out the other end of it just fine. Well, I didn't seem to be able to plow through this very strongly at all and wasn't feeling any better and was reduced to just plugging along. The outsides of both my knees were extremely sore the rest of the day, probably due to the strange shuffle I was doing.

One thing that was nice was making it to Lemon Drop (after being disappointed again by the orange slices right beforehand) only to easily run my way up it thinking how it wasn't much of a hill at all. Then, at about 3 miles left (a bit after Lemon Drop), I was 99% sure that puking was finally going to happen (this is also where I confess to thinking about taking one of those offered beer samples on London Road, just to make myself hurl and get it over with. Happily, I resisted the momentary urge!). I moved to the side and assumed the Stance (you know what I'm talking about!) but it was not to be. Okay, back into I go and then ran every step of the last three miles a million times stronger then I had been.

It's pretty fun to do those last miles while feeling not completely miserable - the crowds are massive, the downhill is so nice and I was passing tons and tons of people. However, I was pissed that I was suddenly able to go and worried that the stronger feeling wouldn't last long but decided that at this point, the plan was to go as strong as possible until I couldn't. As it turned out, I could push it good all the way in. I couldn't believe it when I got a nasty, nasty sideache less than half a mile from the finish, though. But, really, I think the only surprising part now is that I didn't get one before with all the difficulty breathing I was having. Well. Who cares if you can't breathe, there's half a mile left. I had long been promising myself that at the finish I could finally let myself hurl and let myself cry so I might as well add letting myself double over to gasp for breath to that. Happily at the finish, there was no hurling and no doubling over. I did have Tonya to hang on for a minute, though.

So the Grandma's curse stands. I'm not happy with a 4:07 when I wanted a 3:35 but this was my fastest Grandma's so far so maybe I'm chipping away at the curse little by little. Maybe next time around I'll smash through it! Right now, I'm a bit peeved that I have do a fall marathon, now, if I want to do Boston next spring. I was starting to think about Moose Mountain but I think that's a bad idea if I have to do a road marathon, too. My original backup was Fox Cities but . . . it's a lot more expensive then just doing Whistlestop. So, despite it being the weekend before Wild Duluth, I think that's going to be my plan. But we all know how well I make decisions . . .