Saturday, November 27, 2010

Success in the Mountains OR Running a 50K on a Shoestring Diet

On the morning of Santa Monica 50K, Christi and I went to the sliding glass doors in our hotel room and with some hesitation, drew back the curtains. The race was starting at 9:30AM, and after being woken about 5 hours earlier by torrential rain and winds swirling around our hotel, we were somewhat apprehensive about the conditions for the start of the race.

Not that we are delicate flowers – we can handle a little rain and wind, by golly – but this race would be Christi’s first 50K, and if we could get decent conditions, well… then we’d like that very much, thanks.

Turns out we had nothing to worry about, at least for the time being, for a look behind the curtains revealed what seemed to be perfect conditions for a trail race. It was about 60 degrees and sunny, but still gusty enough to ensure that we would not get too hot throughout the day.

So far, so good.

We were both very excited for the race. I was excited, but a bit apprehensive – I wanted Christi to do well and enjoy herself, and was feeling slightly stressed with my strong desire for both these two things occur. At the same time, I ultimately knew that Christi’s enjoyment and success in the race would be, well, up to Christi. Still, I knew I played a role in both those things… and to top it all off, I was trying to be as relaxed as possible, so that Christi felt relaxed...

This is just a small sampling of the thoughts bouncing around my head in the morning before the race. I was not necessarily doing the most excellent job in being laid-back and worry-free.

But, I forced myself to be… um… relaxed…

After all, the truth was we were both there to enjoy the run, enjoy each other’s company, and, by the way, finish the darn thing, so we could knock “Run 50K” off Christi’s To-Do list. Really, it was a no-brainer that Christi could finish, and I knew that before she ever started training… but Christi did not yet know that she could, and that was the important part to prove.

If anything, because it would give me an opportunity to say “I told you so.”

Reviewing the Course

At the race site, Christi and I got our numbers and checked the race route one more time. There would be 4 races running at the same time (9K, 18K, 30K, and 50K) and there were 3 different loops marked on the map, all with a different color and all beginning and ending in the Start/Finish area. At first glance it seemed confusing, but after reviewing it a few times (I had done this online) it had been very clear – in any case, we went over it one more time before the race to make sure there had been not changes.

After more than one bathroom stop - 3 cups of coffee that morn may have been overdoing it - we were called to the start by one of the PCTR crew. He called out some last-minute instructions that we did not have a hope of hearing in all the throngs of people, and then, we were off.
Heading up the trail
The start felt a little crowded, and we quickly had to funnel down from the large group that had gathered in the parking lot into a single file for the trail. The path was approximately 18 inches wide in some of the beginning sections, with sharply sloped sides and slicked with mud from the rain overnight.

There would be one major climb in the 12.2K orange loop and it began early on. We stepped carefully but quickly, and jostled each other to move forward as the path winded upward.

At this stage the crowd was moving pretty fast, with that impatient, nervous energy typical at the beginning of a race. For me, there is always there urge to get away from the crowd, and being willing to step up the pace even though it was probably faster than what you had planned.
One hour in, we were doing well - the path had opened up the higher we climbed, allowing Christi and I to check-in with each other and trade comments back and forth.
By this time Christi had consumed half the flask of Perpetuem she carried, which pleased both of us
as she typically has trouble getting nutrition down during long runs.

Fueling - check. I made a mental note to myself that we were looking good for the first few hours. As the run went on I anticipated that it would be harder and harder for Christi to ingest food or liquid fuel, so if we could keep on track early, all the better. I might have to do some nagging but she was used to it... she's been married for about the same time as me, after all... and we knew it was important to stay on top of.

Approaching the summit of our first climb, we were rewarded with
some fantastic views of the coast, and as we leaped over puddles and savored reaching the peak of one of the race's biggest climbs we remarked again on how lucky we had gotten with the weather... rain would have been ok. But clear blue skies... that was spectacular.
Approaching the end of the orange loop, we looking forward to the first aid station, as we had both been out of water for several miles... then, suddenly, we saw faces on the trail and heard shouts of "Mommy! Mommy!"

Christi's four kids and her husband were standing there waiting for us, along with my own husband and our two kids. It was a very happy surprise as we had not known they would be meeting us there, but we were a bit flustered with the suddenness of the meeting.

The result of this was several awkward but excited exchanges of food, kisses, information, hugs, powders and gels, and then, as quickly as the situation allowed, we extracted ourselves from our kids' grasps, waved goodbye, and headed out to tackle the next loop.

The Pink LoopComing out of the aid station and having seen our families, we were feeling energized. I was also pleased to have grabbed some cubes of pumpkin pie (score!!) and a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Christi had not made out as well at the aid station, however - after grabbing the potato chips she had been craving on the orange loop, in typical mom fashion she had then given them to her youngest son, Callum, so he would not fuss as much as she left him to return to the race.

So, she did not have much of anything to show from the station, though she had loaded up on water and drank some of the Clif electrolyte mix offered there. We vowed to be more focused at the next station and make sure she left with what she needed.

The next aid station was mid-way through the pink loop, and we whooped with excitement as we approached - or at least I did. I was really hungry! I grabbed a few squares of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while Christi went for the community vat of Vaseline sitting on the table and started applying it to her shoulders. After grabbing a few more bits of food, we were off again, alternately jogging and walking as we juggled the fuel we had snatched.

Again, check-in time. "How are you feeling?" I said.
"Ok," Christi said, unconvincingly.
"How's the stomach?"
"Did you get any potato chips?"
"Yeah, but I don't want them."
I hated pushing food on her - I felt like a nag - but we really needed to keep her eating. We were already falling behind on the nutrition track, and there was more than half a race to go.
"Well, if you could eat a couple, that would be good. Just keep taking little bites."

We began running with a bit more conviction along the trail, side-stepped into the bushes for a quick pee break, then headed up a hill that would take us back to the trailhead and the start of the 2nd orange loop.

I pulled out my phone to send a quick text to the guys, and when I turned it on I saw that there was a text message waiting for me from my husband, Zach.

How's she doing? the message said, and I passed this question on to Christi.

"Tired. In hell. Wishing I had signed up for the 30K" she said. I looked at her face. No hint of a smile.

I wrote: She's tired, but doing great! Managing to eat some and stay hydrated. We're looking good.

After finishing the pink loop, we headed out again on the orange one. When we had less than 15K to go, I called up to Christi, "We're over 2/3 of the way through! We've now officially run further than you even have in one shot!" We were both tired, but happy with our progress... and looked forward to finishing the race.

We came into the final aid station to find our families again waiting for us - and again, we were overjoyed to see them, but somewhat distracted by the business at hand. By this time I think Christi just wanted to get the whole thing over with - an impatience I typically feel myself as the race goes on. We grabbed food from the tables, then headed on out on the final yellow loop.

The yellow loop was really more of an out-and-back up the side of a mountain, and just 9K long... however, we had been out there long enough that our fuel (or lack thereof) was beginning to become a major factor.

During the race, I had been steadily ingesting my typical 200-300 calories per hour. By way of comparison, Christi had taken in about 1/4th of that over that same time (due to her ongoing challenge of keeping food and water down while running), and it had to be catching up to her.

The final push
Christi was feeling pooped. Not that she shouldn't have been - we had been running for over 6 hours, for goodness sake, and I was definitely feeling it too - but she had to be feeling it more, given the small amount of calories she had been taking in.

We pushed on, focusing on the positive, and bantering back and forth to take our minds off the stretch of trail that remained. At the top of the mountain we hooted triumphantly as we caught sight of the turnaround point. Only 4.5 K to go! Piece of cake.

As we headed back down the trail, I looked out onto the ocean, which was gleaming in the setting sun. Christi held her pace firm in front of me, and I laughed as I stumbled over my own feet in my efforts to catch her up again. I was very happy to have her running this race with me. I've always enjoyed running alone... but I had recently come to realize that sharing the experience can be even more rewarding.

"We're nearly there!" I called up. "I can see the parking lot!" We were nearly there - and I felt both relief and regret. We were going to finish - Christi had persevered, through the tummy trouble and the early morning training, and now she was going to finish her first 50K. I was so glad we were going to be successful - but sad it was going to be over.

We ran down the last stretch with gusto. "Whoo-hoo!" Christi cheered, and I laughed with relief to see the parking let and finish line.

"Hey!" A familiar voice shouted. "Hey, guys, look!" It was my husband, with kids in tow, having just arrived on the scene. Christi's husband was still getting the kids from the car and would join us in a few minutes, but in the meantime we went about getting our butts across the finish line.

We stepped through the finisher's ropes and accepted the congratulations from the race crew, responding with our hearty thanks for their own efforts. As Christi's husband Devin joined us on the scene, the air was filled once again with the sounds of kids' voices, laughing, crying, whining, and asking for something to eat/drink/play with/pull apart...

I looked at Christi, offering congratulations, and feeling like there was something more that needed to be said... I sensed her unhappiness with our times, and frustration that she had not run a faster race (to which I sternly demand that she consider how little fuel she ingested the whole time and how that might have impacted her energy level throughout).

But, with the kids around us, and the husbands already trading plans regarding where we would now go to shower, change, and eat, we had already passed back into "mom" mode. Our reflections on the race would have to wait for another time - and that was OK.

We had run the race, and been successful doing so. We had learned a lot in the process. It had been an awesome day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Christi's First 50K

I just checked the race page - the race is sold out! I'm glad I got my name in this week - especially as I have been telling Christi all this time I will run the race with her. It's her first 50K ever. It's gonna be great.

Christi found the Santa Monica Mountain 50K online some months ago - I think her husband has some friends that are also running in the event. As she has never run more than a half-marathon at any one time, it took a little convincing to get her to sign up for the 50K over the 30K (it should be noted that it also took balls, on Christi's part).

Sure, the 30K may have been more reasonable... but, is THAT what we're shooting for? Reasonable? Um, why start now?

Anyway... Christi resisted a few times but ultimately decided to sign up for the 50K - now that's what I'm talking about! There were many, many reasons she could have provided to not sign up - not having the time to train (she has 4 kids under the age of 6, by the way); having to deal with numerous dietary and physical challenges (she has persistent trouble eating while running and threw up 4 times before our last run... we are just finding out that she may be allergic to dairy); and, well... because it just seemed dumb.

But, ultimately we run these distances for the challenge of it - because we enjoy the run - we enjoy the outdoors - and we like to push ourselves further than we ever thought we could (and the race tees - some of us just want the cool race tees). There are other reasons, of course - and I knew if Christi was going to do it, she would need her own reasons, or she would never stay the course.

But, stay she did - we have trained together on a handful of weekends, but overall she has incorporated her running into her schedule and motivated herself to stick with it, with very little help from me.... and on Sunday, I'll get to be there for the ride!

I am very confident that we will finish, and finish strong - however, a DNF cannot be ruled out. Christi still has some trouble fueling while running, and while she has gotten through 4 hr training runs on less than 1 energy bar, that might not work as well for 6 or more hours. We'll have to see - we have a plan in place to try to keep fueling, but ultimately we'll have to see how it goes when we're out there.

I sure hope to report a successful and triumphant finish for my friend Christi in the next post... I only just realized it, but if she were to DNF, I would be so disappointed - but disappointed FOR her, not IN her. And I know firsthand how she would feel.

I have DNFed before and it put me into a funk that only another race, a successful race, could pull me out of - and I'd rather she just be able to immediately claim the glory that she so rightfully deserves, and move on.

We'll see. We'll both see - I'm excited to get out there with her.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thirty Four!

It's my 34th birthday, and already the crisis is starting.

In both my search for meaning and a separate-but-not-entirely-unrelated search for a brutally challenging physical event to complete in the not-too-distance future, so far this morning I have googled the following:

extreme ultra races
most challenging ultra races
toughest ultra races
Great Wall of China marathon
Everest ultra race
swimming the English Channel

I have also googled "age appropriate clothing" but that's a separate issue.

I turned up a number of races of interest, including but not limited to the following (the below just happened to catch my eye for varying reasons):

  • Addo Elephant Trail Run in Africa
  • 6633 Extreme Winter Ultra Marathon in the Arctic Circle
  • The Great Wall of China Marathon
I also learned that when officially attempting an English Channel swim, one must wear a "standard swimming costume" (no covered arms, legs, or made of bouyant materials) and can expect to be in the frigid water for 7 to 27 hours.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Barkley Marathons

Here's a race report from this year's Barkley Marathons - I have just finished a book about this event. Sounds insane... and oddly compelling.

Monday, April 5, 2010

So... here's my blog.

"EUREKA!" I hear you all shout. "A blog, finally a blog! Something NEW! Something no-one has thought of BEFORE!"

Yep, I'd have to agree with you there, and thanks for noticing - I'm pretty much the first to write a blog, and one about running, nevertheless. But let's not dwell on such details. There are blogging mountains to be climbed.

As yet, I'm not sure how often I'll write, or what it will be about - details, really - but I figure it at least will be, well - useful. Or, funny... but, mind you, NEVER both useful and funny at once, as this is a delicate balance that should only ever be attempted by more experienced bloggers than I.

Sound good? Glad you think so. See you again soon.