Taper Week 1

Oddly enough, the madness hasn’t taken over. Not yet. Perhaps because I don’t know what I’m in for. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I know I can finish this race…one loop is all it takes to avoid the DNS/DNF. But more than likely, it’s the 56 miles that I ran this week…during taper? What? That’s insane.

A year ago, 55 miles would have been a peak training week for a marathon. Heck…I wouldn’t have run past 50.

Two years ago, I was in the midst of training for my first marathon, and my longest run was 18 miles.

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since the big training run at the lake. I should probably fill you in:
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Suffice it to say, it went well. I joined a fellow runner who is training for the same race. He had started at 5am with two mutual friends, but i couldn’t get out there so early. At 7am, I met the three of them, and we circled the lake once before they left. A little fast for my warm-up lap…they were cruising close to 9:00 pace.

Then it was the two of us for the next two hours. The pace was still fast for me (closer to 10s), and at least once I asked him to leave me and go ahead. He offered to slow down, but that rarely works…the more we talked, the faster we ran. I really didn’t mind.

I knew this would tire my legs faster, but I didn’t have a real mileage or time goal for the day. I packed enough food to be out there through the afternoon, but after that I was winging it. Tiring my legs from the start would give me an idea of what the later hours of the race might feel like. And that seemed like an experience worth checking out.

I had offered to run a “virtual” half with a twitter friend, so made sure to check my watch (and the time) around that distance. 13.1mi in 2:18. Definitely faster than I’ll be on race day. I sent her a quick tweet to mark the milestone, and kept going. I tried not to look at my watch. At all. We were joined by friends throughout the morning and afternoon, which made the time pass quickly.

I passed the marathon mark with Doug, and shortly after, the 50K distance with Andrea. Then my watch died. An expected event, so I had quickly done some math to estimate how many more laps until 40mi. I wasn’t sure I could run that far, but I liked that it was a round number. With about 3 loops to go, I dropped to a walk. I would make it, but this wasn’t a race, and I had already proved to myself this was doable. There was no point in hurting myself, or pushing any harder.

So I finished 40.22 miles, in 1.2mi loops in 8.5hrs. That includes aid stops. Not too shabby. The trail is mostly packed sand and pea gravel, but don’t let that fool you. It’s hard. Harder than asphalt. And I took a beating. That’s the trail…on the right:
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Just over a week ago, I headed out with friends to run what I thought would be a 50K…my last long run. Turns out Mother Nature had other plans…and blasted us with heat and humidity. Everyone that came out put in their very best, and made smart decisions regarding when to call it a day. The trails looked great. And I’m happy that we all enjoyed time together on a holiday weekend. We’ll do that again…maybe when it’s not so hot.
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And then I started the taper. I feel healthy. I’m mentally ready. The only thing I’m stressed about is that other people are involved, and I don’t trust easily. I like to be the one giving…I don’t like to ask for help.But I can’t do this without them. Sure…I have to do the hard stuff (running is hard!), but taking care of a tired and cranky adult all night certainly cannot be fun. It’s a sacrifice. This is where running becomes a team sport. And I’m going to have to get over it.

If you’ve read this far, and plan on being there for the race…even to stop by and say hello…or you’re in the Cleveland area, would you let me know? I’d love to look forward to friendly faces.

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Dawg Gone Long Run

Dawg gone that was a long run!
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Early on Saturday morning, just after 3:30am, I started my trip south…first to meet one of two companion runners for the day, then on to Caesar’s Creek State Park, located about a 90 minute drive southwest of Columbus, OH. He was driving, and thank goodness! I’d managed a 3 solid hours of sleep the night before. Pretty normal for me prior to a big race. And this was big. My first 50 miler!
I’ll admit the Dawg Gone Long Run (DGLR), hosted by ORRRC, wasn’t in my original race plan for the year. I HAD planned on pacing during the Mohican Trail 100 two weeks prior. When my runner decided to drop to the 50mi distance, thereby eliminating the need for a pacer, I was out of a job. And yes, I likely could have picked up another runner to pace, but my lack of experience made me more nervous. Add in the hand injury from a few weeks prior, and I didn’t know how much help I could really be to a stranger. In the end, I chose to volunteer all day (and night…and the next morning) at the Covered Bridge Aid Station, and learned some invaluable lessons from that experience. I was also able to see many folks I know press on, dig deep, and finish a great race…one I’ll be adding to my schedule for the future.
So here I was, fully prepared to run 50 miles (or so I thought), without a race in sight. My next big event occurs in September, and is a completely different monster. A friend suggested DGLR, and it seemed perfect: timing, terrain, and distance all fit the bill. I stalled as long as possible to register, but I finally I pulled the trigger. 50 miles. I couldn’t get my head around the distance.

The race:
Caesar’s Creek is a great place to run. The course was just shy of 17mi of single track, the self-proclaimed “best single track in Ohio.” The trail was normally very runnable, save a few hills and the nauseating stairs (running down stairs at varying depths throws off your equilibrium). There were a few road sections, mainly to cross over the Lake, and a couple boat launch access roads. The last 6 miles of the loop were the most technical with roots and a few short but steep climbs, but the rest was mainly smooth, rolling hills. There was one true creek around mile 1.5 of the loop, which we crossed three times. On the first loop you barely got your feet wet as there are flat rocks you could use to cross. By loop 2, it was ankle deep. On loop three, I was wet to mid calf. But by then I didn’t care. I contemplated sitting in the creek for a minute, but feared I wouldn’t stand up. A valid concern after nearly 35 miles.
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There were two manned Aid Stations: the first was located at approximately mile 9, and the start/finish area served as the second. They were stocked with typical trail/ultra foods including PB&J, cookies, pretzels, pickles, watermelon, oranges, plus water and gatorade. Sadly, not a banana nor a potato in sight (good thing i brought my own). Three unmanned water stations filled in the gaps: mile 3, 6, and 14.5. The race crew was wonderful at keeping these jugs full of water and ICE! What a lift you can get from a few sips of ice-cold water.

My plan:
I need a plan? Remember this was my first 50 mile run. The longest single run I had completed recently was a 50k (~31mi). The longest ever was last September, and that wasn’t much further (60k or ~37mi). I didn’t know what would happen after that!

I had two friends agree to run along with me which was a life saver. First off, they did all the driving. Don agreed to drive down and run the first loop before heading back to Columbus. Doug would meet us there, run the 2nd and 3rd, then drive us home. What a blessing! Pre-race I was a bundle of nerves. Post-race my legs were twitching and my brain was fuzzy. They didn’t so much keep me to a pace, but rather provided companionship for what would otherwise be a long, lonely day. In fact, I carried my iPod the entire 50 miles, but never turned it on. A true testament to great friends. I was in charge of the pace, and carried my own fuel and water always…save twice asking Doug to “hold my banana” so I could get situated. Thanks buddy! 🙂
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The second part of the plan involved the miles themselves. There was no way I could comprehend running 50 miles. Now 10 miles? That I could handle. So I ran five 10milers. And celebrated each one at completion.
We also celebrated a few other milestones along the way:
Don’s trail Half Mary.
My longest single run time-on-feet at 8:30
My longest single run distance at 38mi
Doug’s longest single run distance at 32mi

And the plan mostly worked. Sure…I had a few dark miles…mostly in the 40s, but I expected that. Doug listened, or was just ignoring my grumbling. Either way, he didn’t acknowledge or address it, and let me have the time to work through it. The rain that started during loop 2 only added to the already soaked trail from the deluge they had the night before. On loop 3, we choose to “embrace the mud” as trying to avoid it was even more treacherous. It slowed the pace, but we moved onward. We said goodbye to a few tough hills and the nauseating stairs. I was excited to not run them again…that day anyway. I saved enough energy to run the last grassy area towards the finish. Doug ran ahead to get my picture. And I cried. All the way to the finish line.
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The race director this year was fantastic. I had emailed Julie Blair prior to the race to let her know this was my first 50miler, and that I’d likely be close to the recommended pace and finish last. She was more than encouraging. After each loop, she was there cheering for me. She was excited when I made the loose cutoff to start loop 3. Her voice was the one I heard cheering “You did it!” And “Smile!” as I ran to the finish. Thank you Julie! You made me feel so special!
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A note on nutrition.
After feeling like I couldn’t eat during my last 50k, I needed a better plan. And it was going to include forcing myself to eat. I ate my ENERGYbits after each 10 mile segment which worked out perfectly. I was just starting to feel my energy wane at that point. Amrita bars, PB&J, pretzels, and a banana rounded out my food for the day. I couldn’t touch the watermelon…I may never again after a few (possibly unrelated) horror stories I heard about food poisoning. I also drank 4L water just from my pack, and a cup of water at each Aid Station. By mile 30, the hunger feeling was gone. I felt only nausea. And it seems, for me anyway, that’s what hunger feels like after running that far. So I ate and drank through it. And it passed.

Just one negative comment…
I was slightly disappointed at the amount of trash discarded on the trail (outside of the Aid Station areas) that was obviously from the race: gel packets, paper cups, and a potato chip bag. I felt bad enough leaving my cup at the first unmanned water stop since the crew hadn’t left a trash bag (a task remedied by the second loop). But not to worry. Race or not, my team picked them up and threw them out for you. I’d like to assume it accidentally fell out of your pocket. We’ll go with that.

All in all, a wonderfully trying day. I’m relieved it’s over, and I’m excited looking forward to my next event. It’s now Day 3 post-race, and I can say with confidence that I was ready. I have little-to-no muscle soreness. No walking down stairs backwards for this girl! No ravenous hunger. No energy drain. I’m feeling refreshed and happy.

Preview the Playin’ Possum 50k

As I alluded to yesterday, I’d like to talk about the next ultra on my schedule.
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The Playin’ Possum 50k will be held on Saturday, May 18, 2013 at Delaware State Park, located in Delaware, Ohio. This will be the first year for the event…and the first of its kind in the area.

Sure…you can find a couple of “Fat Ass” (FA) runs around Central Ohio, and a local running store offered a 50k option on a trail series they hosted a few months ago. (A FA is a free, no frills event, generally without support, shirts, medals, finish lines or publicity. You hear about the event via word of mouth…or Facebook…show up, and run. It’s fun. Or crazy. Likely both.) I participated in both of these in the last 6 months, and they were fun in their own way. But in order to find a true “ultra,” you’d have to travel to Mohican or Hocking Hills. Although those places are beautiful, they are quite a drive for most of us from Columbus. Out of that need, the Possum race was born.

Directed by Mark Carroll and Chad Heald, two great (and experienced) guys, the course traverses varied terrain: grass-covered levy walls, dirt and gravel roads, single track, and hopefully, a trip across the damn dam.
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The race is open to everyone. It’s just fine if you’ve never done anything like this. In fact, it’s strongly encouraged. There will be some very experienced folks out for the inaugural event. But with more than a third of the field as first-time ultramarathoners, the passel is more than excited to show a few runners what an ultra is all about. They want you to fall in love with ultra…like they did…like I did…and come back for more!

First, and maybe most important, there are cookies…and chips…and candy…and all manner of junk food that most people would not associate with “running.” At the official training run last week…they had these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that were amazing…I digress.

Not food motivated? Have you seen these views? Sure…it’s a little muddy now. By May, it’s going to be gorgeous…and maybe still a little muddy. You’re not afraid of a little dirt are you?

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Alright. Let’s get serious for a moment.

For me, it’s about the people. Building a great community of trail and ultrarunners in the Columbus area.

Remember those people I talked about yesterday?

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Here’s your chance to meet them. Run with them. And raise a glass…of Coke (No alcohol in the park please.)!

There are still two Official Training Runs before race day. They are open to everyone…even if you haven’t taken the plunge yet. And I mean that quite literally…I was lucky enough to find a few places with knee-deep water last week!

Join us this Sunday, April 21st at 8am. We’ll be running about 10 miles of the course, including the single track portion! You can find out all the details on the community Facebook page. The final training run will be on May 5th, and will cover about 30k of the course, weather and construction permitting. We are in Ohio…and even the Dam isn’t safe from the orange barrel. There will be some aid provided at the training runs (water and snacks), but please bring anything you might need including your own hydration bottle or pack. No paper cups in the woods!

Don’t have Facebook? Send me a message and I’ll make sure you get all the details.

And don’t forget to follow Playin Possum 50k on Twitter as well.

What? You’re still not registered?

The Playin’ Possum 50k is over 75% sold out…if you’re considering joining us, register soon. Registration will close on May 15th, but the race could easily sell out before that date. Remember that all proceeds go to the Special Olympics. You’ll still get a shirt, and they’re promising a unique item in place of a finisher’s medal. I’m curious enough…are you?

Don’t miss out on this one!

Photos in this post are used with permission from Stuart Kirk and the Possum Races website.