Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wrapping Up 2015

Ever since I got off the couch and started running, cycling and swimming, I have known that I am not fast, but I can keep going, albeit slowly, longer than most.  I’d rather run a half marathon than a 5K, rather swim slowly for an hour than one fast lap in the pool.  With this in mind, after the Richmond marathon in mid-November, I began planning my 2016 year of racing.   After a year of focusing on running, logging multiple marathon distance weekend runs, plus a 40 mile ultra, I decided to get back on the bike and back in the pool.  I figured I would run marathons, ride century (100 mile) bike rides and get back into triathlon.  I prepared charts and schedules with a logical progression from one event to the next.  I had planned to tell you all about the plans.


And then, one day, I took a “rest day” from athletic training, which I typically take once a week, and I found that I could not climb a flight of stairs without having to sit down for a minute.  The fatigue persisted for days and weeks.  I consulted with my doctor, who had all kinds of tests run.  Medically, I am perfectly normal.  My mind and my body tell me otherwise.  I need a break.  So, my “plan” is not to plan anything until after the New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, I am running only if I feel like it, and if I’m running and want to walk, I do so.  I’m hopping on the bike during the unseasonably warm weather, and enjoying the great outdoors.  I’m going to swim at the beautiful 50 meter SwimRVA pool, but I won’t push myself.  I won’t worry about what I need to do to improve for some future event.  I will celebrate the here and now. 


I also will celebrate everything that Amy’s Army of 100+ Cancer Warriors has accomplished in the year since the group was formed.  We have raised over $50,000 for VCU Massey Cancer Center, funds that will be used for life-saving cancer research.  We’ve raised awareness about cancer prevention and treatments.  It’s been a good year. 


Many thanks to all of you for your support!



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pine Creek Challenge

After a fabulous vacation in Ireland, during my “taper,” I returned to the office for a couple days and then headed to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania for the Pine Creek Challenge, the 100 kilometer (62 mile) race I have been training for all year.  While training for this race, I have been raising funds for, and awareness of VCU Massey Cancer Center, where I was treated for breast cancer four years ago.


My health. The first bad sign was that, on the drive to Pennsylvania, I noticed my throat was hurting.  Was I getting sick?  Maybe I shouldn’t have risked the plane travel just before the race: those airplanes are germ factories. On the other hand, I wasn’t having any pain in my hips or knees; whatever nagging injuries I had were gone.  When I told my friend Holly about my sore throat, she reminded me that when her daughter Emma, 9 weeks old at the time, had chemo, her throat and mouth were so covered in sores that the baby could not suckle.  She couldn’t keep a pacifier in her mouth.  I said, thank you, no matter how bad it gets out there, I will remember “I can still suck!”


100 Names.  On the ride up to Pennsylvania, I rehearsed my recitation of those to whom I would dedicate a kilometer.  I had 100 names and “fun facts” for each of them.  I was still working on memorizing the list, so I had Coach Dave hold the list and prompt me as I endeavored to recite them.  It took an hour to read the list, and in the end, I couldn’t talk at all.  We checked the forecast for the race:  COLD AND RAINY. 


Quickly my crew decided for me that I would not be able to talk for an hour in the rain and pitch dark after the race with my sore throat.  So we came up with an alternative strategy: Denise would film me with her “go pro” camera at each aid station with crew access, and SHE would read the names of the folks for whom that segment of the race was dedicated.


My Crew.  My crew was nothing short of amazing.  Coach Dave Luscan came to support me, and brought his family.  Dave is not a long-distance runner, and he was having some issues with his calf, but a month before the race, I asked him if he would pace me during the race, maybe 15 miles or so.  He said “I’m trying to get healthy enough to actually run the race with you.”  I took this to mean that he would run the entire 62 miles with me, and I registered him for the race.  It wasn’t until we were actually running it that he confessed he did not mean he would run the WHOLE race with me, but that I had been so enthusiastic about his apparent offer that he decided to go for it.  Susan Ann Glass planned to start running with me at the halfway point of the race, for 12 miles.  Holly McFeely, who was my running buddy for ultras in the past, would take over after Susan Ann to run 16 miles, which was on her training plan.  Then there would just be 3.5 miles to go.  Logan Harte, my massage therapist, was part of the crew.  And Denise, Holly’s mother, who has been part of my crew for many a race, was there too.


The first half.  The race started at 9:00 am, approximately ten minutes after the rain began.  The temperatures were in the upper 50s.  It was great running weather.  For a healthy person.  There were about 40 determined looking runners at the start line.  Dave, used to running fast in short-distance races, started with me at my slow pace. 


Dave seemed surprised when fellow runners chatted with us, I think because he’s used to running so fast nobody can eek out more than a word. One woman said she had done the 100 MILER last year.  “Wow! What made you decide to drop back to do the 100K this year?”  She said, “well, I was running and was having terrible pain but ignored it.  In June, running another 100 mile race, I found out that my foot was broken.  So I had to stop running for a while and I’m just getting back into it.”  My jaw dropped, and she waved good-bye and took off ahead of me. She broke her foot, and three months later she’s running a 100k.  Because more than that would be crazy.


As we went along, it was great to get to know this little band of runners. Runners in ultras will slow to chat with someone for a while before heading off.  It’s an all-day affair, so a few minutes here or there really does not matter.


As we came upon the first aid station, Dave mentioned that we might not want to spend too much time at aid stations if we wanted to keep our time goal in mind.  I realized then that he did not know how completely wonderful aid stations are at ultras, or how we would end up feeling about them later in the race. At this one, Dave’s daughter surprised him by showing up.  She spotted him, shouted “DADDY!” and gave him a huge hug. They ran a 50 yard dash together.  At the next aid station, which our crew couldn’t access, we stopped and ate a whole banquet.  Chicken soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches, cookies, pretzels, boiled potatoes with salt.


We ran along a “rail trail,” which used to be a railroad track.  The surface was packed dirt.  The scenery was gorgeous, with the leaves just starting to turn for the fall.  A creek ran parallel to the course the whole way, so we saw waterfalls mixed in with the changing leaves. As the day wore on, the rain got heavier and the temperature dropped. We pulled into the next aid station, at mile 20, where our crew was waiting for us.  I reported that this was just mile 20, but my body thought it was mile 30.  Already our running pace had slowed.  I announced that my hope of finishing in thirteen and a half hours (my stretch goal) was not in the cards.  My new goal was to finish in 15 hours, or by midnight.  I lay on a plastic poncho on the group and Logan massaged my leg and assisted me in some stretches. 


Dave was starting to fall apart.  He said his feet were on fire.  He was undertrained for the race, but he had originally planned to be my coach, not run the race with me.  He told me he had run for three hours the previous Monday, or about 19 miles, so I didn’t worry too much.  It was after the race that he confessed that his three hour run was cut short to 90 minutes because of the heat.  He thought that telling me that before the race would have discouraged me.  Anyway, by this point in the race, Dave knew he couldn’t continue beyond the halfway point.  “But you’ll still be an ultra-marathoner.  The halfway point is 31 miles, a 50 K.” What an awesome feat: to run a 50K on a long run of 90 minutes.  (NOTE: Dave does not recommend this strategy).


We set off, knowing that the turn-around was another 10 miles away.  There was an aid station in five miles, but our crew couldn’t access it.  By the time we arrived there, Dave and I were stretching out our walk breaks and running very slowly.  And we noticed that we had to go about a tenth of a mile off the course to get to the aid station.  I said, “Dave, I hate to make the run longer, but we are definitely stopping!”  This was the best aid station, and I was later to spend a long time there.


We set off again.  Dave was hunched over like an old man.  He remarked that he could tell that his run form was about the worst he’d ever seen. Two runners who were doing the 100 miler passed us.  The man noticed Dave’s form and asked if this was our first 100K.  He began to dish out running advice.  I tried a couple times to interject Dave’s role as a coach, but the guy didn’t listen. “Be sure to eat at the aid stations: nutrition is the key to a long race.”  “Relax while you are running.  Getting all tense just wastes energy.”  And, mysteriously, “you hurt now but the good news is the hurt doesn’t get any worse.”  I thought Dave might strike the man, and I think if he ever sees him again he might.  But on this day all he could do was say “ugh” and shuffle along like Tim Conway.


When we were at mile 30, we passed a runner, Mike, whom we’d seen many times along the course.  He said, “it’s only two miles to the turn-around!”  What the heck?  The turn-around was supposed to be at mile 31.  31+31=62. Mike must have misspoken.  Later, at mile 31, with the turn-around nowhere in sight, we realized Mike was right.  I thought Dave might cry.  We saw a woman ahead of us with a large golf-style umbrella.  “Dave, I’ll punch her in the mouth and you yank on her legs, and when she falls down, let’s steal her umbrella!”  Dave readily agreed, but before we could muster any violence, we realized the lady was our friend Holly.  She shared her umbrella with us.  I was sopping wet, shivering and miserable.


Finally at the aid station, I lay on a blanket in the back of my car while Logan took off my shoes and socks and gave me a foot and leg massage. “You are so inflamed!” he said.  The foot massage hurt, but I knew I couldn’t keep  going without it.  After he was finished, I put on new socks and shoes, changed my dress and put on a long-sleeved shirt, a dry jacket and a dry hat.  I felt better, though still pretty terrible. 


Dave decided to stop at this point and declared, “this ultra-running is horrible.  It’s the worst idea ever.  You people who do this kind of running are totally nuts.  Really, it should be ILLEGAL!” It made me giggle.


Deciding to Stop. Heading back, I was joined by Susan Ann, who became my pacer.  She was chirpy and chatty.  “Let’s GO‼!” she said.  “Hold your horses,” I retorted.  It was really hard to get running again, but after some false starts, I could run a little.  Susan Ann began to whip off story after story to distract my mind.  I listened to only about half of them.  She didn’t mind. After a mile or so, the relief that Logan’s foot massage had given me began to wear off.  My feet hurt.  My knees hurt.  My hips hurt.  I began to notice that my back was wracked with pain. I wasn’t standing up straight.  I couldn’t.  I soldiered on.  It began to get dark, and Susan Ann and I turned on our headlamps.  Soon thereafter I ran a step and experienced a sharp pain in my left foot.  “OWWWWWW!” I screamed.  We walked a bit and she worried that I had broken my metatarsal bone.  Then she examined my foot again, and though she isn’t a doctor, she decided it was not broken but merely sprained. 


This isn’t going to make any sense to many of you, but when she decided I didn’t have a broken bone, I was disappointed.  I wished I had a bone sticking out of my leg. Then I could stop with no questions asked. I could lie in the rain until an ambulance came to take me away, where I could eat as much ice cream as I wanted. But my foot was not broken.  Still, break or no break, I couldn’t run.  I couldn’t even walk fast without the sharp pain coming back, and I couldn’t tolerate that for more than a few paces.  I had to walk without flexing my left foot at all: a sort of “Frankenstein’s monster” walk.  So we walked slowly.  For the next four miles, we set a 30 minute per mile pace.  It took us nearly three hours to cover seven miles, with the last four or five miles being the slowest.


At this pace, in theory I could still finish the race.  It would just take me about twelve more hours of walking through cold rain while wracked with pain and a sore throat.   I had already been running (or walking) for 11 hours.  I thought of the reason I was doing this race: to raise funds for and awareness of Massey Cancer Center.  To honor and remember those touched by cancer.  Surely this pain was easier than chemo. I thought of all the people I knew who would be able to keep going.  I remembered the mantra: “I can still suck.”    


We were arriving at the aid station that was off the trail, in a location with minimal parking, so my crew would not be there.  I considered whether I could walk the next segment, six more miles, to meet them.  That would be three more hours of pain, in the pouring rain. I was pretty sure that I could not do that.  And if I did, I was absolutely sure that I could not continue after that. I cried and asked Susan Ann to call the crew.  There was a momentary panic when we realized that nobody had cell coverage, but of course the aid station had walkie-talkies.  My crew was already worried and had called back to see if we had made it through the aid station. 


I officially pulled out of the race and sat in a chair and ate chicken soup.  Several runners stopped for 10 minutes or longer at this aid station. One woman, doing the 100 mile race, changed her shoes.  She had huge bunions that had deformed her feet.  I was amazed that these feet could walk to the coffee machine, much less run 100 miles.  What was it that made these people so tough? Whatever it was, I didn’t have any of it left.  I left all my mojo out there that night.  It was just shy of 40 miles into the race.


As we pulled away from the aid station in the car, two runners approached, Mark Willis and Grandison Burnside.  They were running the 100 mile race.  (They, Som Sombati and Richard Nelson, all of Richmond, finished that next morning).  Grandison looked radiant.  When she heard my story she didn’t miss a beat to say that I had gone far and should be proud, and in any event it was all about the fundraising, so I should be very proud indeed.


Amy’s Army Finishes the Job.  The next day my friends decided we should “finish the race” symbolically. Holly started running where I stopped the night before. Holly is training for the Richmond marathon and had a 16 mile run on her schedule (and that is what she was supposed to run with me the day before).  She’s tough, but she’s a bit afraid of being alone in the woods.  She carried mace in her hand and set off. She was afraid she might encounter a creepy man, a rabid animal, or some other unknown danger. She told me an animal scared her to death and she almost sprayed it with mace.  Turned out to be a deer! 


The rest of my crew (sans Dave, who had had to return to Richmond) parked the car about 3.5 miles from the finish.  Logan and Susan Ann walked toward Holly, and when they found her they walked back with her to mile 3.5 from the end, where Denise and I joined the group.  By this time, 15 hours and a lot of ice after I stopped, I could walk fairly normally.  Together, Amy’s Army walked the last 3.5 miles together.  Holly ran and walked nearly a marathon by the end, and of course I told her she needed to finish her job too.  So, off she went, to run around the parking lot till her Garmin said 26.2. 


What’s Next?  Before I started this race, I thought my next race would be another ultra, this time in Africa, where I wouldn’t have my crew.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Amy needs Amy’s Army! 


I have been trying to wrap my mind around getting a DNF (did not finish) for this race I trained so hard to finish.  I’ve been wondering if I should try this distance again, and if so, when.  Or should I go back to something “easier,” like triathlon.  (My tri friends will laugh at that: triathlon is hard, too, but in a different way). 


I don’t know what I will do next.  But whatever it is, I know all my friends and family will support me.  I am blessed.  And I can still suck.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Independence Day Win!

On July 4th, I ran the inaugural Independence Day 17.76 kilometer race at Shirley Plantation.   This race took us around the Shirley Plantation and on nearby roads, including Route 5.  It was scenic, especially the "bonus" out and back path along which my friend Lilo escorted everyone at the start.  I felt strong, and eleven miles is not a long way for me, given that I have been running more than a marathon distance in training. 

After I finished, Lilo said, "did you look to see if you placed in your age group?" 

"What, me?  I didn't even look."

She encouraged me to go take a gander, so we looked.  Turns out I placed second in my age group (ladies 50-55)!  It was a small race.  Were there no other ladies in my group?  Turns out, there were a total of nine!  I placed second out of nine ladies.  Unbelievable!  Some were not too far behind me.  The lady who won our age group finished a full thirty minutes ahead of me: a truly fast runner.  This was the first time I have ever gotten the opportunity to stand on a podium. 

At the awards ceremony, some who are used to standing on the podium demurred when offered the chance.  I said, "I'm definitely going up!" 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Six Hour Tour of Richmond

There are a few people in the world (Dean Karnazes says he’s one) who can train for marathons and ultramarathons without getting injured.  I suppose it is because they are biomechanically engineered for running, have perfect form, and got the “running gene.”  Then there’s folks like me.  I run because it makes me feel great, but it also hurts sometimes.  I have to be careful.  On the other hand, if I stopped running every time I felt a little twinge, I’d be back on the couch where I sat for four decades.  No thanks.


Earlier this week, my Achilles tendon was a bit sore and inflamed.  Uh oh.  I iced it and stretched it.  I told Coach Dave about it on Saturday.  “Hmm,” he mused. “Had you not told me that, I was going to have you do a six-hour long run tomorrow.”  We consulted, and in the end he told me to have a six-hour run as my goal, but if the Achilles kicked up, stop running.  “And don’t take ibuprofen; that will mask the pain.”


The weather was not about to cooperate with this plan: forecasts were in the 90s with high humidity.  Last time I ran in similar heat, I ended up with some crazy rash on my feet and legs, diagnosed via the internet as “heat rash,” also known as “diaper rash.”  This time, I got ready by waking up at 4:30 am.  I put goop (aquaphor) on my feet and bra line to avoid chafing, and then I dumped powder in my socks.  I think this is what they do to babies with diaper rash.  Only they put the powder in their diapers.  I slathered myself with sunscreen, SPF 50 with zinc, and then I sprayed sunscreen on top of that.  I loaded my running pack with extra sunscreen for later.


And, as the sun rose, I took off.  I ran for about an hour circuitously from my house in Byrd Park towards the Sportsbackers’ Stadium, where my marathon training team (team Cocoa) was to begin its 8-mile run.   I got near the Stadium with some time to spare, so I did some nearby loops, and in doing so I spied several marathon training team peeps who looked at me quizzically, no doubt wondering why I was adding “a mile or two” to the 8-miles on the plan. 


I refilled my water bottles and added Tailwind, my nutrition, to my bottles, and listened to the banter.  “I usually run faster, but I think I’ll run about a nine minute pace today, because it is just so hot.”  A nine-minute mile is what I can do on a good day in the winter, if I don’t have to do anything else for a few days.  As I waited for the official start, I wondered if I should forge ahead, but because it was my first day with the group, I waited.  Coach Ellie, also a fabulous chef, said a few words about our route (which would take us back to Byrd Park and through Carytown) and we were off. 


Or I should say, everyone was off, and I was right there behind them.  After a half mile or so I spotted a woman behind the rest of the group, and I surged to catch up to her.  “I’m Lou,” she said.  Lou was more or less my age, and this was her first marathon training team year.  “Your first marathon?” I asked.  “Oh, no, not my first, and I’m getting slower, but I don’t worry about that anymore.”  How many marathons has Lou done? 80‼  Wow.  After a mile or so, I realized that Lou’s slow pace was around 11 minutes per mile, not something I could sustain if I planned to run for six hours, so I dropped back and let her go.  This left me dead last.  One of the team’s coaches ran with me for a bit, seemingly concerned at first about my slow pace, though he was kind enough not to say anything other than “how are you doing?”  “I’m doing FABULOUS, thank you!  Today I am going to run for six hours.”  (A/k/a, well, I’m slow, but I’m not about to fall out and require an ambulance.)  Once he realized I would make it and I knew the way, he was off to tend to folks who were faster, but less sure of the distance.  Soon I noticed a group of runners who had headed the wrong way and were retracing their steps. For a moment, I thought I’d catch them, but of course they were faster than I am, which is how they did this far plus “bonus miles” faster than I did.  I let them go, too.


Just around the corner, I heard and saw something terrible.  A dog was barking and slamming against the inside of a car.  There was no sign of a human.  Inside the car, I saw the dog, a pit bull, next to a bowl of water.  The windows were not cracked.  I noticed that the front door itself was cracked, as was the hatchback to the car.  But only a crack, and in this heat, the dog would die quickly.  I turned off my watch and looked about for the owner.  I took out my phone and wondered aloud what to do.  As I was about to dial 911, a police officer showed up.  Later I learned that Coach/Chef Ellie Basch had called 911 when she ran by.  She also was the person who cracked the door and hatchback. The owner had left the dog there without even cracking any windows or doors!  The police officer said that animal control was on the way: they would take the dog if the owner did not show up.  Later Ellie drove back and reported that the car was still there, with a ticket on the windshield, and the dog was gone: no doubt taken by animal control. 


Back at Sportsbackers, I refilled my water bottles and reapplied sunscreen liberally.  I asked for recommendations about the most scenic route to downtown, and took off, with one guy shouting at me as I left “you are going out again?  I saw you running in before we started.”  Little did he know that I had over three hours of running left to do.  One of the advantages of running on your own is that you can go wherever you’d like and change your mind at a moment’s notice.  So I headed through Northside neighborhoods to make my way downtown.  I enjoyed the scenery, the old homes and big trees, and then I turned onto an unfamiliar road.  I was a bit disoriented, and then I realized I’d been there before, on a bicycle, lost.  That other time, I had (1) asked a homeless person for directions (who told me something very confusing), (2) asked Siri for directions (who gave me directions to Hong Kong and mentioned water) and (3) cried.  This time, no tears; I just ran toward the tall buildings in the distance.  The key was that I had to run so far and so long, it didn’t really matter if I ran a few miles “too far” this way or that. 


It worked!  I got to Jackson Ward, then through the downtown streets I made my to Brown’s Island, where my friend Emily Bashton was doing her first race as a pro at Xterra.  I wanted to arrive in time to see her finish this race.  As I arrived, she was leaving “T2,” which means she had finished her swim and bike ride, and was headed out on the last leg of her race, a 10K run.  Well, Emily’s a heck of a lot faster than I am, so I knew I could get something to eat and drink and cool down a bit and she’d be back in no time.  And so she was. It was thrilling to watch her cross the finish line.  She came in 8th overall among the pro women triathletes. GO, Emily!


After more sunscreen, I walked with my friend Susan Ann toward her car and then took the pedestrian bridge from Tredegar to Belle Isle, where there is a scenic dirt running path on the grounds where, during the Civil War, Union troops were held.  The route was shady, thank goodness, so I did two loops.  On the second loop, I was thinking about what an incredibly lucky woman I am for getting to run for six hours on a hot Sunday. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.  And my mind went off into happy land.  Do you know what happens when you are running on dirt or trails and your mind goes into happy land?  My toe caught on a rock and SPLAT! I found myself lying flat, face-first on the ground.  There was dirt all over my legs, body, and arms.  And a little between my teeth.  I spent the requisite two minutes inspecting the damage and feeling sorry for myself, and then I got up and dusted myself off.  Oh, well.


Next up, I climbed the stairs at 22nd street to get to Riverside Drive.  I took one long pause to view the James River  from the top of the stairs, and then I was delighted to see that the entire 22nd street entrance to the Buttermilk Trails had been renovated.  It’s beautiful!   And the water fountain there was great for washing off my wounds from my fall. I hopped onto Riverside Drive on the theory that it is shady.  I had forgotten, though, just how hilly it is!  And by now, it was getting hotter.  It was a slow few miles that got me back to the Nickel Bridge, just a short way from home.  As the six hour mark loomed on the horizon, I began figuring out my last miles.  I had in mind finishing 27 miles before the end, but about two miles to the finish, I realized that to do that, I would have to find Lou’s 11 minute per mile pace again.  And that wasn’t going to happen.  So I started to walk.  It was right then that I realized: my Achilles was fine!  It had not flared up all day.  I finished my six hours right at 26.2 mile, a marathon.  A slow marathon, but not a bad day’s work for such a hot and humid day.  No medal, but I walked right into my backyard, took off my shoes, and got right in the pool with my running dress on.  Felt good on the boo-boos on my knees from the fall, and on the heat rash I’d gotten, yet again.  Ahhhhh! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


As you know, I ran marathons in February and March, then a trail half marathon, all on my way to running a 50K (that’s 31 miles) on the same course where in 2012, I missed a cutoff while attempting a 50 miler.  I was looking forward to tackling that course again.  But, alas, it was not to be.  Just before the 50K, I was running up and down a hill in my neighborhood when I felt, “uh oh, my hip hurts.” 


As you know, I’m not a “natural athlete,” so sometimes bad posture causes little issues.  Coach Dave suggests it is my running form.  He suggested I emulate the running forms of famous marathoners.  Instead I emulate Tim Conway’s “old man” form.  In that sense, I am a Grandma.  Anyway, this nagging Grandma issue caused me to take some time off from running, and then get back into it slowly.  But, by last Sunday, I felt about 95% cured of this latest nagging injury, and I was ready for my first double-digit long run since my hip started hurting.


I signed up for Jake’s Reindeer Race, which celebrates childhood cancer survivors, including its namesake Jake Maynard, the son of one of my partners.  It offered a 5K, a 10K and a one mile fun run/walk.  I signed up for the 10K and decided to run for a couple hours before the race started.  During my “warm up” run, I ran over to the finish line of the East Coast Triathlon Festival and watched some of the talented young triathletes race.  My friend Lilo took the picture you see under the tent. 


Back at the Reindeer Race, families gathered, played games and celebrated.  I looked around at the folks lined up to race and thought to myself, “hey, I might not come in last place!” At the triathlon, athletes were wearing svelte triathlon suits and had their “game faces” on.  At the reindeer race, folks were dressed in reindeer antlers, red and green outfits and their “game faces” said “Let’s have fun!” on them.  The race started, and I found myself in the middle of the pack.  It was fun running with all the kids, dogs and folks in costumes. 


However, I soon learned that all these fun folks were out for a mile or a 5K.  My race would be two laps of the 5K course.  Once I finished that first loop, I was on my own!  All other runners who had elected the 10K course were clearly talented runners.  That is, they were fast!  The sun was beating hotter and hotter, and I wasn’t quite acclimated.  They were playing Christmas music at the start of the second loop and I got in my head “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”  I couldn’t shake it out of my head for those last three miles.  I tried to convince myself that I was a reindeer, not Grandma squashed under reindeer hoofs.  In fact, my face was so red from the heat: was I Rudolf?  Because of the heat, I slowed to a slow jog intermixed with walk breaks.  I realized that though my nose was red, I was Grandma.  And I had gotten run over! 


But at least my hip is okay.  I’m happy to be back running long, even if I’m running slowly.  This coming weekend, my plan is to run for four and a half hours.  J

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Instant Classic Half Marathon: Napping

My experience with trail races lately has not been great.  In December, I tripped and fell four times in a trail 50K, and in January I got hopelessly lost in another trail race.  I saw a photo on-line about “napping” on the trail, meaning falling down face first.  I worried that I would do that again, or get lost.


So, I’m pleased to report that the Instant Classic Trail Half Marathon was nothing like that.  First, the course is so well marked that even I could not possibly get lost.  On one sharp turn, a sign admonished runners to turn, noting “NOBODY gets lost at the Instant Classic.” Thank goodness.  And I didn’t trip.  I have this feeling that the tripping I did in December resulted from fatigue brought on by many-a-Christmas-party plus many-a-year-end-deal.  Kind of a lethal combination for the little grey cells.


The trails were beautiful and we had two creek crossings.  A trail run isn’t a trail run if you don’t get your feet wet!  On one creek crossing, there was a huge log across the stream.  I paused, and a couple came behind me and began to use the log to cross the stream.  I recalled something my friend Jay once said about creeks: “Cross them like you mean it!”  I went splashing through the water, like a big kid.  A big smile came across my face, and I headed into the finish. 


About 30 seconds after I came through the finish, a man came through.  “He’s the winner!” someone announced.  Yep.  I was running the half, and he had run the full.  “I beat you!” I told him.  I’m usually half the speed of the winner of trail races, so I do count my 30 second lead as “winning.” 


I went home and reclined for just a few minutes.  Two hours later, I awoke from my nap.  At least it didn’t scar me!

Tobacco Road: Don't Smoke it and Smell Like a Rose

After a two week spell of some awful winter virus and respiratory infection (I felt as though I’d coughed my lungs up), I tried running again, slowly, the Monday before the Tobacco Road marathon.  That two weeks off left me feeling out of shape.  This is why people who run only rarely say they hate running: it’s hard if you don’t do it all the time.  Would I be able to run a marathon less than a week after returning to running after a couple weeks off? 


“You can run Tobacco Road,” my coach said, “as long as you don’t smoke it.”


So there you go. My fastest marathon was 4:54.  I had run the Mercedes Marathon three weeks earlier in 5:13.  So my goal for Tobacco Road was anywhere between 5:15 and 6, so that I could recover quickly and get back to running.  My target was 5:30.


The course was gorgeous.  After a couple miles on an asphalt road, we turned onto an old railroad trail.  The tracks are gone, and most of the route was packed dirt, though there were some asphalt sections.  I ran with my friend Virginia for a couple hours, until she decided to turn on the gas and go faster.  “See you later, Virginia,” I said.  “I am not going to smoke this one!”


The trail was not terribly hilly, but after ten miles or so I was heading up a small hill when I saw a woman with her dog on a leash.  It was the oddest looking dog!  HUGE.  Was it a Great Dane?  I got closer and realized: the lady was walking a GOAT!  A fellow runner stopped, pet the goat and got a photo.  Then she smelled her hand.  “Oh, no, I am going to smell goat for the next 16 miles!”  The lady offered to let me pet the goat, but I demurred.  When I finish a marathon, I like to smell like a rose. 


For most of the marathon, I made sure not to catch up to the 5 hour pacer, and to stay ahead of the 5:30 pacer.  At about mile 21, the 5:30 pacer caught up with me.  I was getting tired.  I asked him how fast he normally runs a marathon, and he told me his normal pace is 3:30, but these days he was running them slower and pacing.  Why?  Because he is planning to do a 100 miler in two weeks.  “I am a little beat today,” he said, “because I ran a marathon yesterday too.  I really wanted to do this one in 6 hours, but they didn’t have a pacer spot for that.”  WOW.  At that, I let the tired man pass me.  Turns out I was more tired than I thought.  The last couple miles were slow: I was still running, I suppose, though my pace wasn’t must faster than a fast walk.  In the end, my finish time was 5:45.  Success!  I didn’t smoke it, and I smelled like a rose.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Grit, Grits and Girls Raised in the South

It’s been a cold and snowy February here in Richmond, so mid-month I escaped to Birmingham, Alabama, my home town.  As it turns out, Birmingham was facing cold temperatures too.  Fortunately, things warmed up in time for me to run the Mercedes Marathon, in memory of my father, Ben McDaniel, who lost his battle to cancer in June 2013.  And along the way, I remembered GRITS.


Years ago, when Steve and I first moved to Richmond, my mother came to visit.  When Millie’s had no grits to offer with breakfast, and suggested “home fries” instead, Mom declared, “This is not the South.”  Never mind that it was the capital of the Confederacy, never mind that Monument Avenue features the key Confederate generals in larger-than-life-sized statues.  During the marathon, I found a number of ways in which the Deep South differs from Virginia.  It’s not just the grits.


The race started at Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham.  I saw my first concert, the Grateful Dead, here in the 70s.  I stood in line for the ladies room and observed that they haven’t done a thing to the bathrooms since I visited them thirty five years ago.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  They have posted “no smoking” signs everywhere.  As an asthmatic, I still recall that the air was not clear of smoke during that 1970s Grateful Dead concert!


I noticed that although the temperatures at the start of the race were in the upper 40s, and most of the race they were in the 50s, many runners sported long pants or tights.  I wore my signature sleeveless mini-dress.  I think this goes to show that what you are used to in your training runs makes a big difference in racing. 


Another big difference I saw was that Birmingham has many more African American runners than you see in Richmond.  More than would be accounted for in the increased population of African Americans.  What’s up with that, Richmond?


The spectators at this race were great.  In addition to the usual greetings, there were some special Deep South shout outs.  My Dad’s favorite would have been “WAR EAGLE!”  Dad used to say War Eagle instead of “Hello.”  In Richmond, he was circumspect, lest people be confused, but in Birmingham, his booming “War Eagle” would be greeted by a return, “Hey, Ben, War Eagle to you, too!”


I heard War Eagles, and a fair share of Roll Tides, and I also heard these cheers:


  • God’s Got this for You!  (Momentarily, I thought I could stop and let God do the rest of the running; then I realized something about helping people who help themselves, and kept going).
  • All Y’all are doing awesome! (Not just “y’all,” but “all y’all.”  If it is a large and disparate group, “y’all” isn’t always adequate. The speaker wanted to emphasize that every single person was doing awesome, without exception).

The marathon and the half marathon started at the same time, with the marathoners completing a second loop of the same course.  Because this was merely a “supported training run” for me, I was not trying to beat my “personal record” for the marathon distance, which is just under five hours.  Instead, I wanted to be sure to run comfortably so that I would not have a long recovery time before running long again.  On the other hand, I couldn’t run slower than a six hour marathon, because the race has a “balloon lady” who runs that pace, and if you fall behind her, they remove you from the course.  I figured I could run the race in about 5:30 or so.   The goal was to run the first 21 miles fairly slowly, and then pick up the pace during the last five miles.


The first lap went well. Maybe I went out a bit too fast for the first mile or so, which were downtown, so pancake flat. I don’t think I have ever run a race where I didn’t go out too fast.  But I settled into a pace after a bit.  I have to hand it to the race organizers. Birmingham is a very hilly city, but this race was not too terribly hilly.  There were hills, all right, but there was not a single hill that was steep enough to warrant walking instead of running it.  That was good and bad. 


Lining the streets (it being a Sunday morning) were a number of church groups. They handed out gummy fishes (loaves and fishes, I guess) and held up inspirational signs.  “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us,” Hebrews 12:1, said one sign.  No doubt the person holding the sign referred to the Mercedes Marathon race, but of course the meaning is much deeper.  I reflected upon my journey this year—racing toward the 100K run, racing toward raising $100K for cancer research.  My father said he used to try to run but could never muster more than a couple miles on the track.  He was proud of me for my running.  Proud of my running the race that Gold set before me.


I was running with “Tailwind” for my nutrition.  It is a powder that you add to water and you don’t need to eat or drink anything else.  I filled my four bottles with Tailwind water, but of course for more than five hours I would need much more than four 8 ounce bottles to drink.  I carried extra powder in baggies and refilled the baggies at the aid stations.  I felt a bit like a drug addict with cocaine—this white powder falling all over me. It took forever. I really like the nutrition, but I need a better “refill” method.


As I passed the famous Alabama Theatre and then began the second loop, I felt great.  No tiredness, no aches. By mile 21 or 22, I was supposed to “surge” into race mode, picking up the pace.  I tried, but doing this was difficult.  I did run some fast stretches—on downhills.  I did pretty well until mile 24.  The bottoms of my feet were starting to hurt. 


I noticed what looked like a finish line balloon arch down the road.  “Is that it?” I asked a volunteer.  “Yes,” she said.  I guess I should have been more specific about what I meant by “it.” “It” was not the finish line, and when I got there, I despaired.  Another mile to go.  The good news is that I was not walking, I was just running pretty slowly.  Like, the pace I should have run during mile 1.  A volunteer handed me a moon pie, though, and that made me happy and nostalgic.  I remember eating moon pies with my Dad as a little girl.  I mustered up what grit and determination I had left, and kept running.


As I came into the finish line, a sign said “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.”  2 Timothy 4:7.  And that made me smile.


Mom’s had a hard time since Dad died last year.  Later that day, I was walking like Frankenstein’s monster, and I settled into a recliner next to Mom to watch the Oscars.  The doorbell rang.  Mom said, “I’ll get it.”  I said, “okay, I think you will be faster,” as she reached for her rolling walker.  Mom: she’s got Grit.  After all, she’s a Girl Raised in the South, too.

I was supposed to keep running after this Marathon, but I have been struck by the winter crud, so I’m grounded for now.  Next up, though, is a weekend marathon on a “rail trail” followed by  a trail half marathon the following weekend.  Should be a blast!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Water Where?

When you run on trails, you get used to the idea that you might need to cross a swollen creek and get your feet wet.  With this in mind, I never wear long pants on a trail run because the bottom of the pants can get wet and muddy.  I never think about this when running on the streets of Richmond, so when I saw that the weather for Frostbite 15K was in the low 40s and 100% chance of rain, I put on long pants to keep my legs warm.  Error! 

As I warmed up for the race, I noticed the largest puddle covering the entire road across the lakes from my house in Byrd Park.  As an SUV stopped and turned around to avoid crossing this flood, I spotted a race volunteer and asked him if the puddle was on the course.  He consulted a map and said “you have to cross this twice!”  There’s a photo of this spot, right, with a Richmond Road Runners truck traversing it.  In the end, when we came upon it during the race, they diverted us into the grass going out, and onto the sidewalk coming back.  Even so, it was very wet. 
It rained off and on during this race, and by the second half of it, the bottoms of my pants were soaked and heavy.  I kept having to hike them up so I wouldn’t step on them.  Still, all in all, this race was very fun!  I smiled the whole time, much to the amazement of the volunteers, who apparently thought I should be looking miserable.  No matter how bad the conditions are for a race, though, it’s always a pleasure to run, to be able to run.

Danger Will Robinson

So, as you recall, the last time I told you about a race, it was one in which I ate too much dirt.  I determined not to repeat that fate during the Willis River 35K, an 18+ mile out-and-back trail race out at the same location where my first trail race, Bear Creek, takes place. 

I had hoped to find my friend Jen Lebendig out there.  We had run Bear Creek together and planned to reunite at this race, but she was nursing an injury, so I had no running buddies there.  No matter: I figured that I would end up running with someone my slow pace and make a new friend.  The awesome race director Barry gave a little speech about how we should look for white blazes and white ribbons and if we hadn’t seen one for a while, we should turn around, and we were off.  The crowd thinned out quickly, and it was only a matter of a half mile or so when I was in the back.  In fact, it appeared to me that the engineer had unhooked the caboose from the rest of the train: there was nobody in sight!   So, with no conversation to interrupt my thoughts, I concentrated on lifting my feet so I wouldn’t stumble and looking ahead for the white blazes and white ribbons.  Sometimes I would go off course, but as soon as I realized I had not seen anything white in a while, I would turn around and retrace my steps until I saw a white blaze or ribbon and knew where to go.  I was proud of myself because I’m not much of a navigator. I once left Richmond to meet my husband in Baltimore and realized I’d be late for dinner when I saw the signs for Emporia, Virginia.

I guess it was about mile three or so when I saw a woman walking toward me.  Out for a stroll?  But then I saw she was wearing a race number and felt badly that she was injured and obviously having to walk back to the start.  I came upon her and startled her.  “What!?!  You have already turned around at the endpoint of this race and are on your way back?” she said, but with little conviction given that I do not look like one of “those” runners.  After discussing the fact that one of us was obviously lost and convincing one another that neither of us was good at navigation, we went our separate ways.  Soon, I arrived at a creek that looked eerily familiar.  I had, indeed, taken a wrong turn.   I turned around and ran the other way again, carefully looking for white blazes.  Maybe a mile or so later, I saw the creek again.  This time, I decided to walk from this point possibly to the next aid station, just to ensure that I made it past whatever turn I was missing.  Slowly, carefully, following the white blazes, I found the creek again.  I stopped then to take a photo.  I mean, why not?  I was clearly in love with this creek.  I went out again, and ended up at the creek even sooner than before.  Would I ever get out of this forest?  At this point, a fast runner came up behind me, on his way into the finish.  I decided I’d better follow him in, taking a “DNF,” which stands for Did Not Finish.  I guess this was a good idea because I got lost three more times on the way back to the start, which was only three or four miles away.  At this point, because I wasn't going to have an official finish time, I stopped and took photographs when I got lost.  You can see a few on this blog: could you find your way through these trees?  Anyway, eventually I got back home and I watched the fast people finish, and talk about the places they got lost.  We thought the front-runner had set a course record, but it turns out he got confused and turned around about 150 yards before the official turnaround.   I don’t know why that made me feel better. 

I seem to learn something every time I race.  This time,  I learned, if the course is difficult to navigate, I need a running buddy to make sure I can find the way!