Momma was wrong…always Run With Scissors!

I knew when I signed up for this race, it was only 5 weeks after North Coast. I knew that meant I didn’t have time to train specifically for a trail double marathon. I knew I’d have to rely on the base I had built, and just keep my fingers crossed that I didn’t get hurt. I’d have to go out on a limb. I’d need faith. I asked friends, and they all assured me it would be ok. I wasn’t looking to race the double, only finish. I could do that. Oh my…what have I done?

Run With Scissors, hosted in part by Medina County Road Runners, had made some changes to their course and events this year. And though I hadn’t run in years past, I heard only positive comments from long-time participants. In 2013, the event offered half marathon, full marathon, and double marathon options to runners, all contained within the trails of Hinckley Reservation, a Cleveland MetroPark just West of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 20131103-182717.jpg

The course itself was 13.1 miles, and runners would complete 1, 2, or 4 loops respectively. Each participant is given a pair of scissors to carry while running, fulfilling that childhood dream that your mother forbid.

Why scissors? Books were strategically placed in remote areas of the course and you had to cut a page from the book to prove you ran a section. At each aid station you’d turn the page in, grab some snacks, and move to the next section.
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Held the last weekend in October, costumes are encouraged, and foliage is at it’s peak in Ohio. All proceeds from the event go to charity…the event literally starts with nothing every year. As with the other Ohio trail and ultra races I’ve participated in, the volunteers were top notch and aid stations were well stocked Run with Scissors was no exception! It is only because people travel far and wide to volunteer that the race happens at all. The race energy was fantastic, and I hope to make it a regular part of my schedule.

So here’s my recap:

I woke up on Saturday and I didn’t want to run. I thought it was just the anxiety hitting me, but it was more than that. This was supposed to be a fun race. I had signed up for two reasons. First, my friend Mark had highly recommended it. Second, I wanted a backup race in case North Coast went badly. But it didn’t. So there was no pressure at all. Maybe I need a little pressure. I don’t know…

I decided to ride up with my friends, always knowing I didn’t have to start. Or I could run the half and call it. Same thing with the marathon. You see, at this race you can drop to a lower distance after the event starts. But start the next loop and you have to finish it, or take the DNF. So that became my plan. Run one loop…or two, and decide. Realize I knew the whole time that once I started, I would finish all four loops. Anything short of leaving in an ambulance and I would finish.

We picked up our packets on Saturday afternoon on the way to a friend’s house where we spent the night. The most important item in that bag? Scissors! Thank goodness they were safety scissors, because I have a propensity for tripping! (Amazingly, I only tripped once, and didn’t fall…just caught my toe on some air!)

I slept well, to my surprise, and got to the race start without incident (Thanks Chad and Mike!). After a quick safety brief…and “pep talk”…we were off. It was pitch black at 6am, and I was happy to have a few others around me for the start. I met Christen that morning, but quickly lost track of her. And that wasn’t the only thing I lost! Within the first two miles, I lost the trail. Twice. It was awesome! No really. It was. I was with a group of 4 or 5, and we missed a major turn in the dark. Sometime during the first wave of folks, an arrow was likely bumped and landed face down. That meant reflectors weren’t…well…reflecting. I knew something was wrong when we ended up in the same place a mile later. Luckily the trail we did take looped us back on the course. It could have been much worse! We picked up some bonus mileage here, but the group I was with was in good spirits, and we laughed it off.

There were two aid stations on the course (4.5ish and 8.5ish) plus the start/finish area at 13.1…ish. It was already starting to lighten up when we reached the first aid station, and I was happy to see familiar faces (Thanks Dan, Steve, Angela, and Anne!). At this point I caught up with Amy (she had done some bonus mileage as well!) and I was happy for the company. We pushed through the aid station quickly, and kept going.

Up until this point, I had no idea where we were. This trail was all new to me, but I did know there was a large lake we had to circle coming up, and then “the Ledges”…whatever that meant. The lake was gorgeous…nice fairly flat trail, a refreshing change from the up and down of the first section. The Ledges came just after the second aid station, and I didn’t know what to expect. We hiked up a tough hill, and then traversed the rocky section that covered the next few miles.20131103-181958.jpg Although there were small runnable sections, most was not. So we ate, and walked until we hit the grass and road sections. I didn’t like them now, but later (in the dark) I would really appreciate the sure footing.

The final trail section wasn’t too technical, just some small gravel, and the third water crossing. Yes…12 crossings for the double folks! Amy and I made it back to cabin, shed our headlamps and started loop 2. I guess I’m in for at least the full!

Loop 2 was exciting. We got to see the first section in daylight, and crossed paths with the marathoners and later the half marathoners. Occasionally people would ask us as they passed “Full or half?” and we could shout “Double!” in response. I’ll admit, it felt pretty awesome to say!

When we got to the lake, we noticed the paddle boats resting up against the bank. We tried to convince a few others in our group to cross the lake rather than circling it, and they “promised” we would on the next loop. In an effort to NOT be banned from Hinckley, and possible incarceration, we decided against it. But it didn’t mean we didn’t consider it every loop after that. It’s good enough for Western States, right?

The highlight of this loop is possibly my favorite moment of the race. When we reached the road section towards the end of the loop, it was really warming up. We slowed down to an easy jog, and I took advantage of the stable surface to remove my long sleeve top, leaving only a tank. Out of nowhere, Amy and I hear a man’s voice “beat boxing” a risqué tune. You know the one… I turn to find, who else, but Jay Smithberger encouraging me. Oh Jay…you so made my day. Thank you and congrats on another fantastic performance.

Amy and I planned to change socks and shoes after that loop , which worked out great since I landed with two feet in the creek a mile from the cabin. With a marathon complete, we had a big decision…we’d have to complete two more laps to the next distance. We’re doing it!

The start of loop 3 wasn’t that exciting. I felt great, and talked Amy’s ear off as much as possible. She probably hates me by now. (Note: I saw her today, one week later, and she hugged me…so I guess we’re good!) Around mile 34, we started laughing. At everything. I call these the “silly miles.” It’s kind of like being punch drunk, after staying up all night…yeah. And it couldn’t come at a worse time…the Ledges.
First we saw this (avert your eyes if you’re offended by…whatever this is):20131103-182608.jpg I swear we didn’t do it, but come on…that is funny.

Then there was this one crevice you had to jump across, or fall 50ft…possibly to your death! Ok…probably not death. Maybe just maimed at the bottom of the cliff. Amy “joked” about falling, and I offered to shoot a movie of it with my phone. When she got stuck she could amputate her own arm to survive with the only sort-of-sharp item we had…safety scissors! I was low on battery life though…so she’d have to make it quick! See? Silly.

And the last loop. We picked up headlamps again, and switched to warm hats and gloves. I didn’t want to be out past dark, but I was glad to have a buddy. I still felt great, and was ready to rock that last loop out. Roy shoved us on and warned us we had to finish or take the DNF. Got it chief!

Shortly before getting to aid station 1, my legs started to tighten up. Amy needed to walk more, and I needed to run, but I had no plans to leave her. We had gotten this far together, and I was having a great time. I took the short out and back section before the aid station to really stretch my legs…and I ran hard, for the first time all day. It. Felt. Great! I made the turn back expecting to see Amy, but I didn’t. I was worried. She had stopped on the way out and called it a day. I was crushed. I can’t explain the emotional roller coaster that a race this long can be anyway. But this had me reeling. I could do it without her…but I didn’t want to. And I cried. I let myself take a 2 minute tantrum, and then I had to go. It was getting dark. It was just me. Have I mentioned that I’m both afraid of heights and the dark? How about heights IN the dark? EEK!

A short while later, I passed Kaitlyn on an out and back I knew she was the only runner behind me…everyone else had finished or dropped. I told her it was just the two of us now, and she was still positive and smiling. During the last 9 miles I both wanted her to catch me, and keep her at bay. I didn’t mind being the last finisher, but it motivated me to keep going. With daylight fading, I ran the next section as hard as I could. My stride really opened up, and I felt like I was flying. Around the lake, grabbed a page and tore into the aid station. They were expecting me…but not yet. They refilled my water, and I left. I had to get over the ledges before dark. I took a second to enjoy a gorgeous sunset though the trees. If I hadn’t run with Amy, I might have missed this entirely. Thanks girl!
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I leapt over the crevice one last time and made it down off the rocks. I got to the field and road section and didn’t need my light with the open sky. A car pulled up behind me and I panicked…but it was the local police just checking on me. Yup…still running hard. Almost there.

I had to use my lamp for the last woods section…luckily it was fairly straight and wide. It seemed like it took forever, though it was probably a mile to the creek, and another mile to the cabin. I was scared, and refused to look into the woods…I didn’t want to know about all the eyes watching me. Finally I hear the road! The cabin! There was Roy, loading cones into the pickup at the end of the driveway. I turned in and he followed me up, honking his horn to let them know I had arrived. I did it. And that last loop was indeed my fastest all day!

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Of the 66 (I think) people registered for the double, 43 finished. That included 8 women. The other women on that list include some fantastic runners: multiple 100M finishers, women I look up to, and aspire to be. And how funny…this race doesn’t give AG awards, and seeing as how the 1st place woman came from my AG, that would make me the 1st place Woman 39&under. Not bad for “not racing.” I’ll (not) take that! 20131103-181932.jpg

My Food Journey…The Middle Miles

Great. You’re still here. Let’s continue.

So I’m a vegetarian. This was pretty easy for me…and I kept it up for five years. Granted, at the start, I wasn’t the best at it…I did what most people do: I subbed meaty things for fake meaty things and ate the same way I always did.

Note: I understand that many people become vegetarian or vegan because of the cruel way animals raised for food are treated. I understand and respect that position. This didn’t play into my initial decision at all. Sure…I love animals. Sure I wish they could all be treated nicely. I didn’t stop eating them because they weren’t though. Over the years, my opinion of this has changed. I’m still not an activist, and I don’t ever plan on becoming one. But I am more sympathetic to the animal rights cause. Maybe it’s because I’ve just been more exposed to the facts and people who are more involved. I’m not sure. It is true that those people you surround yourself will influence you.

As you read in my last post, I started running again. First that 5k, and then a Half Marathon later that year with Team and Training. 20131028-150122.jpg
I was satisfied at that distance…for a time. I ran the half a few more times, and in 2011, I toed the line at my first marathon…crazy. 20131028-150307.jpg
I was still eating my mostly healthy vegetarian diet, which included eggs, milk, and cheese. Occasionally I’d crave a good meatball like my Grandma used to make, but most of the time I didn’t miss meat. Not even bacon.

My weight hovered around 150 lbs…my Army weight. I had just trained for and ran a successful marathon. Maybe this was my “natural weight.” Where I should be. I was in the best shape of my life (so far), but I wanted more. Becoming a vegetarian was never about losing weight for me…it still isn’t. Honestly, neither was running. I just wanted to feel good. To be my best “me.” And I wasn’t…not yet.

I ran another marathon in the spring of 2012, though I had a nagging injury. If the race didn’t include a trip to see my parents in Utah and the fundraising for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, I might not have done it all. But I did. The race brought it’s own challenges, but I didn’t feel any better. And I knew the problem was still my diet…but I was in denial.

It was soon after that I found ultra. None of my friends at the time were doing anything like this. (Oddly enough, most of my friends now are! Surround yourself with greatness, right?) And that’s when healthy eating really started making an impact. You mean I don’t have to count calories? Or suck down those nasty gel things? I can eat real food while I’m running? No way! Trust me…it’s true.

In 2012, in addition to 2 marathons and countless shorter races, I ran my first trail race…a 60K ultramarathon. I had no idea what I was doing.

All I knew was this: Keep drinking water, keep eating, keep going!

That was my whole plan. And it worked. I left that race, one of only a few finishers and with a First Place AG award. What? A month later I ran the Columbus Marathon for a second time, with a 27min PR. Hmm…maybe there’s something to the healthy eating thing after all. 20131028-153144.jpg
What changed? I started reading food labels. Granted, in the beginning this was time consuming. I quickly learned which products were worth buying, and which things I was better off making myself. I experimented with making my own bread, tomato sauce and salsa. And then I started buying more things that didn’t come with labels…namely a lot of fresh produce. Whole foods. That was the key. I didn’t own a scale (I still don’t), but my clothes started feeling looser. I went to the store where I always get my jeans. Instead of the size 8s I always bought, I could comfortably fit in a size 4. A 4? I didn’t wear a 4 in high school! I took my son to the doctor shortly after that, and stepped on their scale. 135lbs. I was shocked. I wasn’t trying to lose weight. It was a natural result of treating my body well. I could get used to this!

To finish out the season, I took on the Goofy Challenge in January of this year. You can read about in an earlier post. I ran both the half and full marathon while eating real food, and felt fantastic after each. 20131028-151801.jpg
So is that the end of the story? Not exactly. I still wanted more. I read about many vegan athletes and wondered about how much influence their diet had on their performance. Then I quickly dismissed the thought. I’m Italian. I LOVE cheese. I can do without eggs and milk, but cheese? That would be torture. Or would it? I guess you’ll have to wait and see…

My Food Journey…The Early Years

If you’re following me on twitter, you’ve probably noticed I’ve been talking about food more than usual. I know…is that really possible? Yes…yes it is.

You see…11 days ago I made a significant change in my diet. 100% plant-based. That’s right. I quit dairy cold tur…tofurky? Whatever. The straw that broke the camel’s back was meeting Matt Frazier: Boston marathoner, Burning River 100 finisher, author of No Meat Athlete, and all-around cool guy. But I’ll get to that in an upcoming post.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this decision. Most people know that I was a vegetarian for the last five years. It’s been great…mostly. I still had some dairy sensitivities, but I was happy. Maybe I should start there. 20131023-095451.jpg
My third child, a daughter was born five years ago this past July. I wasn’t running…at all. I weighed 190lbs. My diet was a train wreck. And I didn’t care. What I did care about were these terrible migraines I was getting everyday. I visited my primary care doctor (then my OB/GYN), who referred me to a neurologist. I was scared. A neurologist? Something is wrong with my brain? Great. Panic settled in. I was convinced I had a brain tumor. Now I’m not sleeping and the migraines are getting worse as a result. He tried a bunch of pills: pills as a preventative, pills to take when you think you’re getting a migraine. Really? When I think I’m getting one? I have one now just thinking about what that feels like. Pop. Pop. This is not working.

Next step: MRI. See…I told you I have a brain tumor. We’ll see it on the scans.

Side note: Have you ever had an MRI? Of your head? I had one of my legs while I was in the Army. This was WAY more terrifying. They put your head in this cage and tell you not to move. That loud noise…is right by your head! I’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know what happens next. Start panicking…but don’t move. And another migraine.

As if something could be worse, I now had to wait for the scans to be read. “If you could just point to the tumor…” Ok…there was no tumor. Everything was normal. But I didn’t feel any better.

Next! Elimination diet. We started with red meat (which I almost never ate) and pork (bye, bye bacon). Then seafood. And chicken. Dairy wasn’t even considered. I mean…I’m Italian, and you just took away half of my plate. There was no way you were taking my cheese.

I felt better, but not perfect. He suggested exercise, and I laughed. This was post-Army. I was on an exercise ban. I was told I would never run normally again after injuries sustained during my service. (Good thing runners are NOT normal!) So I started walking. Then a jog around the block. And the next one. I fell in love.

This is me after running my first 5k in 2009. Scary. Good thing I didn’t stop there!
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I’m not certain any one food was responsible for the headaches, and I could have easily gone back to eating meat. But after 6 months it was my new normal. After a year I decided I wasn’t going back. I was down to my Army weight again…although I had three kids since then…and bodies change. I still hadn’t run my first half marathon. It was barely a thought in my mind at this point, but I would…just a few months later. And even bigger changes were coming. But we’ll get to that in the next post. I think that’s enough embarrassing photos for now. ❤

Learning to Fall

The last four weeks have been a struggle. Not just with running…with life. I want to write about so many topics, but I’ll stick to my running and recovery for now.

After North Coast, I didn’t want to run. At all. I was told this was normal…part of the healing process after an ultra. After all, I did it. I met all of my goals for the race and got a huge distance PR…way more than I was expecting. It was OK to take some time off. And that’s where the problem came in. I didn’t leave any.
In a week’s time, I’m running the double marathon at Run With Scissors, a trail course through Hinckley Reservation in Northeast Ohio. I know nothing about the course except for the reports of others, and a few Garmin maps. This should be terrifying interesting. 20131019-125040.jpg
A quick recap…
Week 1: Hardly any running. I managed about 10 miles of walking and a little biking. I was all but convinced my foot was broken. Running on the road for 83.5 miles can do some damage. I iced and massaged, but there was no real swelling. A nagging tightness when I rested…but I could walk without pain. I thought if I could just get my foot to crack, I’d feel better. I paced a 4mi race on Friday night without incident.

Week 2: Time to put in a little mileage. More foot stretches. Finally my foot loosened up enough. Crack! So much better. As it turns out, my Cuboid was slightly dislocated, and it likely popped back in on it’s own. I gave the foot some support with tape and compression for a few days while continuing the stretching exercises. I logged about 30 miles this week.

Week 3: Peak Week? Already? Not good. I’m not ready. I put in as many treadmill miles as I could stand. My “long run” was 25 miles…on a treadmill…over two days. It was the only way I could stand the dread. I wasn’t able to get to any trails this week, and worried I wouldn’t be ready. I knew I didn’t have to run a crazy amount of miles. The race is close, and I’m not going to make that many gains at this point. Maintenance. I just have to maintain cardio fitness, put enough stress on the legs to trigger muscle memory. No time for DOMS, boys and girls.

Week 4: Here we are. Motivation is at an all-time low. I have no goals for this race other than “finish.” I don’t care if I’m dead-last, but I’m fairly certain I won’t be. I ran 15 trail miles on Thursday, and that was a big confidence boost. I left the trail feeling positive and refreshed. Not too tired, and no DOMS on Friday. Perfect. Most of Friday was consumed with the Columbus Marathon Expo, and I did a fair amount of walking around Downtown and the event itself. This week my sleep cycle is pretty much non-existent. I’m not sure the last time I got a good 8 hours…or 6 for that matter. It’s been a while. I should be sleeping right now, but my brain is in this hyper-vigilant mode. It’s not a good place for me. I can’t relax. I feel stressed and paranoid all the time. Maybe I just need to run…

The race is next Sunday. 52.4 miles of trails for which I’m not sure I’m ready. I’ll finish. I recently met a gal who is running her first 50+ race, and it seems we have a similar pace and race plan. I’ll do what I can to encourage her, and that will get me through the race. Now I know why people stack events so close together…there’s no time to fall. You’re always racing. Of course, there’s a danger in there as well…the dreaded injury. I think if you play it smart you can keep it up for a while, but eventually you have to take time for rest and recovery.

This will be my last official race of the year. I have a few other long runs planned…a miles for years run around my birthday, and a FA50k in December that I won’t miss. But really, this is it. It makes me feel uneasy without something on the books. Sure…I have race ideas for the spring. But nothing official…yet.

Maybe it’s my time.

Time to learn how to fall.