Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When I get older, I will be stronger.

During Catherine's I ran with a man in his late 30s who was an elite speed skater and then became an ultrarunner. He loved that he could still be growing at his age and that few sports allow for that. It's incredible to see generations of a family running the same race (hell, that's common) and that I'm constantly picked on for being so young. I think I'm getting involved in the only athletic community where 22 is young.

The beauty of ultrarunning and trail running in general is that "PRs" don't matter. If you can run 50 miles on a towpath and get a great time, it actually won't mean as much as a 50-mile mountain race that takes 4 hours longer. There seems to be no magic formula, no training plans, and the one thing that matters most of all is experience.

For my last big long run on labor day weekend, I set out to run from Camp Roosevelt to the finish of the Ring, a 71-mile fat ass known as a tougher, rockier course than the 100 mile MMT. I tagged along with Snipes again, a man in his early 40s who has run almost 200 ultras. Snipes is known for finishing a steady race and talking the whole time. He's always trying to teach the younger gang something on the trail.  I only did 38 of the 46 miles I set up to do. By the time I dropped, my legs and feet were destroyed from the rocks, I had several blisters, I couldn't speak, and hadn't been able to swallow water for the last three miles.

This was such a great way to end training because I was reminded of how far I have come from my first training run in the mountains and VHTRC event. In May, I volunteered at Camp Roosevelt for MMT and knew no one. From there Brian and I did 11 miles on the course, in the dark, and it was awful. I remember thinking that I would have nightmares about this course until October and we only lasted 11 miles. This time around, I knew a great deal of the people there and I lasted 37 miles. But yes, I'll still have nightmares about it.

 image from Bobby Gill

The run started off at a slow climb since everyone had just eaten a good bit at the aid station. I got stung by a bee within a few miles (my first sting ever!) and it was a slow, beautiful day. At the next aid station we picked up another Grindstone runner along for the ride. I didn't want to eat since I wasn't a runner, but I was starving by the the next aid station. We were moving along steadily and I felt great. I got some food and felt that sore throat and cough that had kept me up the night before come back.  By the next aid station, I had no voice left.

Another guy, Tom, joined us and we were a group of four. I was having some serious trouble keeping up. The running part seemed fine, but I just couldn't walk and climb as fast as the guys, especially on the super rocky course. I tried hard to keep up, but I spent the next 20 miles or so chasing them. The course wasn't marked, and since I was a pacer I could not ask them to stop for me and I was scared to get lost. I failed to take gels and salt tablets because I was struggling to keep up. I even ran for about 20 minutes in the dark because I didn't have time to take out my lights. And because I had no voice, I couldn't scream to ask them to stop and wait for me, not that I wanted to.

Because of this, I came into one aid station seriously wobbly. I'd never felt so tired and beat up and low on energy in my life. Snipes could tell. He told me he was worried that I was sick, and that I shouldn't wear myself out for Grindstone, but I told him I wanted to go on. I needed to get some of that mental toughness required to finish 100 miles. This was my last chance to get it. 

I won't do nothing but complain on this post, it's not my style. At every aid station, it was a hard decision to decide to continue on the run. But at one 9 miles stretch, I had a great time. I felt so "in-tune" with the trail (for lack of better terms) and I was enjoying all the beauty, my fatigue, the pain, the rocks, the running and climbing... for a good hour or so I was so, so glad that I had decided to keep running. It was a beautiful night!

My throat got really bad at one point, and I could no longer swallow water. I was going to drop at the last aid station, but it was only 5 miles to the next and I decided to keep going. I was counting down every mile and finally could no longer drink water and nearly lost my group because my energy was so low. I struggled to make it to the next aid station, and then decided I was done for the day, with only 8 miles left.

I hate to think that I dropped early during a training run. I felt pretty awful about the run, but I really did learn a lot. I learned that when I'm racing, to be smart about pace and nutrition.  It did test my mental capacity to run ultras, and I didn't feel very strong by the end. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and sleep (or cry).  After that weekend, I took it easy. I went to the gym on Sunday and ended up being really sore after that and a 15 mile run. I'm not feeling as strong as I feel that I should before my first 100 mile race. I'm doubting any ability to do it and finish strong.

This isn't a great way to come back from over a month of no blogging. I've had this post 1/2 written for a few weeks now.  But now that my training has ended, here are some things on my mind.
  • There is no way for me to predict how I will do at Grindstone. I love running, I love trail running, I had some great, strong trail runs, and I've worked hard.  But anything can happen that weekend.  I may not have done all I could to train, but I did it smartly. I still had a life and I'm going to get to the finish line un-injured. That's a huge accomplishment in itself.
  • Labor Day weekend, I was passed by several people twice my age, running twice as long. This is the beginning of a life-long activity that I will continue to get better at. This is just one race and I know I learn more and more as I continue to pursue them.
  • I signed up for a 100 mile race knowing I couldn't do it. It's kind of exciting to not have any idea what will happen.  I've already pushed myself more than I ever imagined. I constantly will feel tired and then remember I've done an ultra every other weekend for 2-3 months. 26.2 is now a breeze.
  • Because of my race, I've had some really wonderful weekends hiking in VA with my boyfriend. I doubt I'd know this much about him if we didn't spend hours in the woods together talking.
  • Training is always more fun than the race itself anyway. I used Grindstone as a motivator to get into trail running, the ultra community, and to test my dedication. I had a strong summer of running and I've met some real kick-ass human beings. 
Now the only thing I can do is run a little, cross-train, stay healthy,  recover, plan, and then hope to God October 1st is my day.