Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wineglass Marathon: The Road to Success is Hard

 A few weeks after running my first ultra-marathon I started to think about the marathon again. I ran one a few years ago at Disney and it took me 6 hours and 15 min. Partly because I was much heavier and less fit, and partly because I stopped at many character stops to take pics. Now that I am fitter, thinner and an ultra-runner, I decided I needed to see how much better I could do at the marathon.

I decided I wanted to run Peak to Creek. My husband ran it last year and had a great finishing time. I loved that is was mostly on dirt and ALL downhill! Unfortunately, the race filled up 10 minutes after registration opened. Never had that happened, and I didn't get in. I was bummed and wasn't sure what to do. Many local running friends were planning to run the Wineglass Marathon. Although this marathon was on roads and not dirt, it was also mostly downhill. The elevation loss was a lot less, but I was told it was a beautiful race with great swag. That weekend hubby and I  discussed it and signed up. The race sold out days later!

Now that I was officially signed up it was time to get my training in high gear. I was already running a lot to build a base and was having a great start to my training. I wasn't nervous about the mileage as I had finished a 34 mile race! I could do 26 miles, right? I started running 8 and 9 mile runs midweek and 14, 16, and more mile runs on the weekend. Most of my runs went well and I was starting to really enjoy the longer miles.

However, training didn't go so smoothly this time round. One morning, two days after a 14 mile training run, I woke up with some pain behind my knee and some swelling. I still drove out to meet a friend for a trail run. Within the first few steps I knew something was wrong. My knee was really hurting. However, it hurt more when walking so I still ran my training run. I decided to go to doctor to get it checked out. I had an ultrasound and nothing out of the ordinary was found. (I probably still need to get an MRI to get it checked out properly.) After a few days pain went away and I kept running.

A few more weeks later I fell down the stairs at work and sprained my ankle. It put me out for about 2 weeks in which I did the stationary bike and did some pool running to keep up my fitness. I came back to training feeling good running 16, 18, and two 20 mile runs. I still had some slight knee pain occasionally and swelling but felt good on my runs. I was ready! And then school started and my lovely preschoolers got me sick. So, my 3 week taper was pretty much me laying around being sick.

I was signed up for a trail half marathon with the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club 2 weeks before the marathon. I decided to run it even though I was feeling horrible. I paid for it and wanted my shirt. Probably not the best idea. I made it through but it was tough. And I felt worse after the race.

Me on the left. I ran the last few miles with some ladies I met during the run.
The last 2 weeks leading up to Wineglass I got in about 3 total runs. But I was confident that the extra rest would make me feel better and give me fresher legs. A few days before the race I was feeling better and ready to rock it.

My husband and I drove up on Saturday to Corning, NY. We decided to take US 15 all the way. It was a beautiful drive and if you ever have time you should drive US 15 through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. We were staying in Mansfield, Pa since we registered so late and most hotels in Corning were booked. It was only 30 minutes from the start. The hotel was very nice and clean, however our room was tiny! My bedroom, which is small, was bigger than our room! But luckily the bed was comfy and we had our noise machine to block out the noises we could hear through the thin walls.

We got to the Corning Museum of Glass in the late afternoon and picked up our bibs and fun swag items. I just love all the stuff you get for this race!

We found a local Italian restaurant and got our pasta and meatballs. Wasn't nearly as good as my cooking, but it wasn't terrible. It came with some yummy bread! With nothing else to do we went back to our tiny room and started getting ready. With the chance of rain I decided against a running skirt and chose my shorts and tank top.

After my bottle of Bold Rock hard cider, hubby and I called it a night as we had to be up at 4:30! Considering I never sleep well before a race, I actually got a few good hours of sleep in. We were up at 4ish and started getting ready and packing up. I usually eat a bagel and a banana before a long run and luckily they had a toaster in the lobby. We got packed up and started our drive to Corning where we had to catch a bus to the start. I nibbled on my food all the way finishing my breakfast bar and half the bagel.

We arrived at the start at about 6:15. It was still quite dark which made the porta potties really dark inside! They had a tent set up and chairs, which was really nice, so we settled in and I tried to eat the rest of my breakfast. I got the banana down but could not finish the bagel. Just kept gagging on it. As I commented to my husband I couldn't eat the bagel, some random guy walked up and looked at my food and then looked at me inquiring about my bagel! I told me I just couldn't finish it and he told he would eat it. And so he took my plate and finished my breakfast. Quite odd, right?

About an hour later the rest of the runners we knew showed up and of course we needed a prerace photo.

A last minute potty break and we were ready to go!

The race started right on time with a nice downhill start. I had to hold back as I knew starting fast would kill me, so I pulled back my pace to my plan and kept it slow for the first 3-4 miles. I was feeling good and was excited! I am running a marathon! And then mile 9 came and I hit the wall. I usually hit a few walls during long runs, so I ate my fuel a mile early, took a short walk break and started up. I'll be honest. I  struggled mentally for the next 3 miles but kept going just a little slower than I planned. I even stopped at the medical tent to spray my knee with biofreeze for just in case.

I started feeling better at the halfway point and was glad to get over that wall. And was keeping a decent pace till about mile 16. And this is where my race well downhill, literally and figuratively. All of a sudden I got terrible cramps in my calves. Charly horse type cramps where I couldn't run at all. My foot would get stuck in a down position and my legs would give out. I really have never had that happen before. I stopped at medic and they offered me some tylonel and some biofreeze. I knew my original goal of 4:30-4:40 wasn't going to happen, but I was hopeful I would still finish under 5 hours.

I was really getting upset at  this point. No matter how much I stretched or walked or massaged I could not run, I was crying off and on. I took salt tablets. I ate my fuel. And then the 5 hour pace group passed me and I lost it. I was so upset and disappointed and frustrated. I felt great, but my legs would not work. Finally, my friend, Erikka, texted me and told me to try a 2 minute interval of running and walking. I found I could make it 2 minutes, and not a second more, before my legs cramped. The next few miles were slow...I felt like a turtle but I was making it mile by mile.

Around this time I caught up to my friend Attila who was having his own pain issues. I was so sad to see he was struggling too, but also hopeful we could get through this together. We stuck together for most of the last few miles doing our intervals. Every once in a while I would go a little further and get ahead, and then he would catch up and get ahead but we stayed mostly together urging each other on. Somewhere around mile 24 some strange random man had cups of beer and yes, my friend, I took one. I thought, beer has sodium, right? It couldn't hurt and it was actually really cold and tasted great.

With about a mile or less left I had gotten ahead just a little and knew I was going to finish. I turned a corner, and there it was. The finish line. It was still .4 of a mile away, but I could see it. I really had wanted to run the whole way, but my legs still wouldn't let me. The cramps were still just as bad. So I kept on with my 2 minute intervals and when there was only .2 left I tried to just go for it. And OMG did my leg cramp so bad I had to literally stop and walk to the side of the road and stretch and massage. People were cheering me and urging me and I was crying. I was frustrated. I walked just a bit and finally was able to run the last .1 of a mile over the finish line. And there was my husband waiting for me. I went right into his arms and just cried.

It was over. I did it. Through pain and walls and everything that tried to stand in my way. I cried the most tears during a race ever. I cried a mountain of tears at the end. Having my husband there just made it all better.
A hard earned medal.

My wonderful husband.
My friend Attila, who finished his first marathon!

And to make me feel even better, they had cold diet coke at the finish. I gulped down 2 cans, ate some chicken noodle soup and grabbed one of every food item they had for the ride back home.

I am still quite frustrated that my legs cramped so bad. I have no plans to run another full marathon. One day I do want to run NY, but I want to focus again on fitness and weight loss and run some half marathons before I decide to go for it. It took me 2 or 3 days to decide I would even run again. I even went for a mile run 2 days later with my dog just to get out there. And I enjoyed it and had no cramps.

The Wineglass Marathon was a great race, no matter how terrible it went for me. The on course support was fantastic. The people who came out were great and were along the course everywhere. The swag was awesome and the whole course was beautiful. I had several support people check on me during the race and the post race food and drink was great. I would love to up there again and try the half marathon. I am so thankful for my friends who cheered me on through texts and facebook. And very grateful for my friend Attila who helped me through those last painful miles. And of course, I am am blessed to have such a loving and supportive husband who was there for me when I was so down. And finally we are both blessed to have great daughters who had to deal with us running for hours each week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How I Became an Ultra Runner

A few months ago I decided to attend a meeting about something called Promise Land 50K++ at Crozet Running. It was an informational meeting about a race, but people were invited to learn more about trail running , too. I had started running 5 years ago and when I started running I pretty much stopped hiking as I had no time to hike with all my weekends taken up by long road runs. Lately, I felt called to the trails again and was interested in learning how to run on trails.

Michelle and John Anderson gave a very good presentation and are very enthusiastic about their sport. Their enthusiasm was very contagious and by the time I left the meeting I was ready to sign up for Promise Land. My husband wasn’t so sure, as I have only run 1 marathon and swore I would never run another one. But, February 1st came, and I filled out the registration and mailed in my check. There was no turning back now.
Elevation profile. 

I spent many weekends with my friends Heather and Ashley running trails all over the place. We ran in Charlottesville, in Crozet, on the AT, on crazy hard trails that we knew we could conquer. I still ran some road runs during the week and ran more miles I ever knew I could and enjoyed it. I was learning new lingo and looked forward to 4 and 5 hour runs on the trail. I was finally combining 2 of my favorite things…trails and running.  And I was making new friends that got me through the highs and lows of longer runs.

As race weekend drew near I was nervous and excited. I couldn’t believe that I was going to run 34 miles with almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain. And in a race that I am told is one of the toughest 50k’s on the east coast. But hubby and I started planning the weekend and gathering needed things so we could camp out the night before and get the whole experience. We were ready.

Friday, April 29, we loaded the car and drove up to Promise Land campground in Bedford, VA.  Brian (my hubby) and I have never camped together and this whole weekend would be a new experience. Our friend Ken had already started setting up his camp, along with many other members of our local trail running group. We chose a spot and started setting up camp. I found my friend Ashley across the way and Heather pulled in not to long later.  My friend Liz pulled in next to us and set up her neat hammock contraption, while I was blowing up an air mattress. I like to camp, but I need some comforts!
Our pink and grey tent in the background.

Hanging out before dinner. Liz's cool hammock contraption she built.

I decided to check out the bathrooms and ran into David Horton, the race director and ultrarunner.  I grabbed my bib and headed back to camp. It was nice just hanging out with friends and chilling. We ate some pizza, had a drink and then headed to the prerace meeting. I was warned about how long the meeting could be, but I thought it was great. I even won a pair of socks!
Campground started getting packed.

Start and Finish line

David Horton's pre-race meeting.

We headed back to camp and checked on our sleeping quarters, aka tent, when we found our air mattress half deflated. Pulled it out, found a hole, patched it well and blew it back up. After hanging out with others for a while we finally headed to bed about 9ish. Let’s just say my night went about as well as any night before a race. First it was too noisy so I put in some ear plugs. Then it was too quiet so I had to take them out. Then our air mattress deflated again and we spend the night cold and lying on the hard ground. I slept about 30 minutes the whole night but instead of stressing about it I just relaxed and waited for wake up call.

Wake up came at 4 am when my phone started singing about all the single ladies. I think I woke half the camp near me. At least it was a musical wake up!  I ate a bagel and checked in again. It was a misty, drizzly morning but it felt good. We all got dressed, made our bathroom visits and lined up for the most epic race I have ever run.

The race started at exactly 5:30. What a surreal sight to see 300+ runners lined up in the dark with headlamps. Everyone was so excited and so nice. The first 2.7 miles is on a gravel road that gets steeper and steeper and steeper. Did I mention it gets steeper? Thank God for Jarmans Road to train on! Heather, Ashley and I started off at a nice warm up pace and within the first mile we started power hiking. It was a decent hike, but I was prepared and I swear the dark helped me as I couldn’t see how steep it got. At the top of the road we ditched our headlamps at the first aid station, such friendly people, and then entered the trail. The next few miles would be all up still, but we were finally off the road and on the trail. I like this single track section. And it looked so different from the training run a few weeks ago when it was covered in snow! This time it was all green and so pretty.

Somewhere in mile 5 we headed off the trail onto a fire road. Now it was time to speed up and get in some faster miles. There were a few ups but lots and lots of downs and if it wasn’t so cloudy and misty we would have had beautiful views of the mountains. We caught up with some people here and passed some people there. It was really fun to meet new people and chat. Around mile 9 we hit AS 2. We were whopping and hollering. It was exciting to get the the next AS! It was nice to get a short break. Again, very friendly and helpful people. Drank a coke or 2, took a potty break and then we started to head up again.  This was technically climb #2 and I remember it from the training run. It isn’t as hard as later climbs but it was still a challenge. This climb takes us up to the Blue Ridge parkway. Once we cross the parkway we get some nice downhill running to Sunset Fields, AS #3. We came in hooting and hollering again. We were doing it! We saw Michelle Anderson cheering us on and reminding us not to stay at the AS too long. I was looking forward to the next section because it would all be new to me.
Having too much fun on one of the fire roads.

As we left the friendly aid station we proceeded down again. This was a big down. And much of it was pretty technical. We had to really pay attention as there were rocks, roots and water. I was really enjoying myself. We got a break from the technical as we hit another grassy road and then another technical section. I broke away a little from our small group and hit Cornelius creek AS. I wasn’t there but a minute when everyone else showed up. We recouped and took off. After a few more miles we hit Colon Hollow AS. I believe this is where we had some of the tastiest ice pops ever….That is what I thought anyway. Now it was time for a road 5k. Right before we hit the pavement portion we took a bathroom break and took in some fuel. We decided to power hike the paved portion and I am glad we did. My left knee had been feeling sore and I didn’t need more pounding. I decided to take some Tylonel  before we headed back on the trail.
Just so beautiful out there.

We were now heading back up for climb #3. I didn’t think this climb was too bad and the tylonel kicked in and I felt great again. We met up with small groups and passed some more and finally settled in with 3 new people. Ralph, John and another Ashley fell into pace with us and stayed with us almost till the end. I am so glad we met this small group. They were so positive and so much fun. I really think they made this section of ups and downs so much more doable. John was just a great motivator and we had fun moving around and playing and chatting. Who would have thought that 20 miles into a race I would be having fun. I even had that thought while running. I was really enjoying myself!

After many ups and downs we hit Cornelius Creek aid station again. This was an important stop as we were about to head up Apple Orchard Falls, the hardest part of the race.  I took off my vest to refill the bladder, grabbed some more tylonel and some Tums and pulled out the rest of my fuel and put it in front pockets. I was ready…or I thought I was! Man, was this a really tough part. In just a few short miles you climb a few thousand feet! It starts off easy enough and just like climb 1 gets steeper and steeper. There were boulders to climb over, stairs to climb, and by far the hardest incline to get up. Amazingly, never once did I think I couldn’t do it. And with John still being such a motivator, I just kept moving up and up. When I made it to the waterfall I had to stop for a pic. It was breathtaking.

Apple Orchard Falls is beautiful!

During this section we started splitting up a bit. We all had our own race to run and our own demons to fight and we were doing it. Even though we weren’t right near each other we all kept yelling out to each other to keep track of one another.  Towards the end of the section I found myself alone with John, the super motivator. I couldn’t believe it when I could see cars. I was almost to the top! Back to Sunset Fields aid station and the beginning of the end!! I ate some salted potatoes, some chips, had some coke and not wanting to stay long I kept going. New Ashley was still ahead but I left John at the aid station. With the exception of one more climb, the rest was all downhill!!! And I was ready. I love downhill!

This section is where I really knew I was an ultra runner. I was running alone for much of it passing a person here and there and really enjoying it. I was ticking off the miles and trying to calculate when I would finish. But as may know, math during a run is hard! So I just decided I would finish around 9 hours and I was ecstatic! I started getting faster, watching my footing as the trail became a little technical again. I could see Ashley and was excited to catch up to her and I think, Ralph.  We kept together as we hit the road again. This was it. 2.7 miles back to camp!!! During the training run I had to walk part of this as it is very steep. But this time I never felt the need to walk. I just kept coming down the mountain. I could do this!

I left my 2 new running friends as they took a little walk break and then passed a group of 3 runners. I couldn’t slow down and let them pass me. The only time I stopped was when I got to the squirrel. I missed it before and had to look at it. It also let me check on the group behind me. They were still there so I took off. Amazingly, after running 32 miles up and down mountains with a 7,600 elevation gain I ran my last two miles faster than any mile I have run in my half marathons. 9:20 and then 8:55. I remember seeing the end of the road and the entrance to the campgrounds and just feeling so strong and amazed. I heard my friend Liz yell out that I was coming in and heard lots of cheers and yelling from friends and my husband. It was so surreal. I ran right into my husband’s arms, as I stopped my Garmin of course. 8:42! I finished under 9!
David Horton and I at the finish.
Photo Credit: Michelle Anderson

My husband, Brian, and David Horton.
photo credit: Michelle Anderson

I got a hug from David Horton too. And Michelle. And others. And handshakes. I walked around a little and just kept thinking about how I did it. I ran an ultra….and I can’t wait to do it again! I hung around waiting for friends to finish and I loved I got to cheer them on as they came in just as strong. We worked so hard for this and we deserved it.

I look forward to running many more ultras in my future and I will be adding Promise Land to my calendar next year. I have to do this amazingly epic course again. The aid stations were staffed with the nicest, most helpful people ever and the course was marked amazingly well. What race will I do next? As I start coming down from my runner’s high I am thinking another 50k in the fall along with a marathon. I want to do a 50 miler too, but I feel I need some more experience before I take the plunge…which I will do next year. It’s amazing what our bodies are capable of. I am ready to see how capable it really is.
From camp. L-R, me, my husband Brian, Ken, Costi, Liz
Photo credit: Costi Sifri

I feel so blessed to have such a supportive husband and such great friends. I know without Heather and Ashley, the training would not have been so much fun. And without Michelle and John Anderson I would have struggled figuring it all out. I have made many new friends over the past few months and look forward to many more races and training runs with them. Running friends truly make great friends.
The best running partners and role models.
L-R, Heather, me, Michelle, Ashley
Photo credit: Michelle Anderson