Monday, November 23, 2015

Well That Was Awful: Race Recap of the Grand Ridge Marathon

I should have known that the day would be a bit rough. The forecast was 100% chance of rain and temps in the high 40's. However, being a true PNWer, I didn't let the weather deter me, I had a new rain jacket and an adventurous spirit!

Turns out that wasn't quite enough.

Last year I ran this race as a goal several years in the making. That day was cold but dry, and an absolute blast. This year it was simply a training run, mentally and physically challenging, and cold and wet. 

The "gun" went off at 8:00 am. and from the start I attempted to remind myself to hold a very comfortable pace. The rain was pouring down, but I was cozy in my jacket. Life was good until the first stream crossing just over two miles in. I knew my feet would eventually get wet, that was a given, but a tricky stream crossing in water over ankle deep that early on was frustrating. I ran up to the stream and muttered "holy shit". The woman behind me ran up and said the same thing, which made me laugh.

Shortly after the stream crossing I got hot and slid off my hood. Huge mistake. 

The run was quite lonely from the get-go, so I was especially excited to see a friend hanging out at the first aid station. Then at the first turn-around, about two hours in, I met up with a couple of ladies that were a lot of fun to chat with. One runner who does ironmans and the other who has run 100 mile races. Despite wanting to continue to run with them, I decided I needed to speed up to get to the finish line/half-way point where I would meet my friend Belia. She came out to run the second half of the race with me and I told her I would be there to meet her three hours in to the run. 

Belia navigating a stream crossing.

Unfortunately, once I got to her I was already feeling done. I think I set far too aggressive of a goal when I said I would be at the half way point in three hours. That is faster pace than last year's marathon, and this was just a training run. What was I thinking?!

The wheels came off on the second out-and-back. My shoes were starting to fill with tiny rocks-- not exactly sure how, but guessing they came from the stream crossings as I don't typically have issues with rocks in my shoes. To add insult to injury, whenever I bent over to take my shoe off a bunch of water poured over my shoulder. My jacket hood, which I took off earlier when I was hot, was collecting rain. Lovely.

A section of trail that was now a raging river.

Eventually I got cold again, probably because I was moving so much slower, but I couldn't put my hood back since it was full of water. And the third time I bent over the water in my hood went down the inside of my jacket. My hands were freezing. The "flip mitts" on my jacket were a great idea in theory but eventually my hands and my mitts were soaking wet. I either had to tuck wet mitts in to my sleeves or let them flop on my hands, neither being a great option. 

My nose was running faster than the streams. My glasses kept sliding down my nose. Despite my attempts to empty my shoes of rocks I couldn't ever quite get all of them. My body hurt. Hamstrings, hips, feet, everything. My Garmin died less than two miles from the finish line. Wah wah wah.

To say my spirits were low is an understatement. Mostly my thoughts centered around "this is ridiculous. Why am I doing this? No way am I going to run Deception Pass if the weather is like this."

And to make matters feel even worse, my time was abysmal. Last year I ran the race in 6:15. My (stupid, far too aggressive) hope was to meet or beat that time. This year? 6:51. 

The only thing saving me was Belia's company. If not for her I would likely still be curled up on the side of the trail somewhere crying. She was encouraging, upbeat, and kept a nice steady pace for me to work off of. 

At the finish line Belia and I were completely drenched, freezing and muddy. We high tailed it straight to her car where we huddled in and somehow managed to wrangle out of our running clothes. Then it was off to a restaurant for beers and burgers. It took most of the meal for both of us to stop shivering.

I don't think this picture conveys how disgusting these shoes really are.
Photo taken the next day, which was lovely, dry, and sunny!

It took a few days of going over and over the myriad frustrations and mistakes from the marathon to figure out what I would do differently next time. Will touch on that in another post.

* * * * *

It was somewhere around mile 22-ish that I swore I would never run the Grand Ridge marathon again. I know that runners, particularly trial and ultra runners, are a hardy bunch, but I need a little more  . . . comfort, I guess.

In a race I need the company of more runners around me. This is the third small, local marathon I have done, and each one had very few runners in the marathon distance. It makes for a long, lonely day on the trails.

The aid stations (well, mostly just the one I used in the middle of each out-and-back) was basically stocked. I heard rumors of it having bacon, but I never saw it. I needed more real food (not sugary carbs), and I should have just carried that with me. I have no idea what was offered at the finish line, because I didn't touch any of it. I was simply too cold and wet to do anything other than make a beeline for Belia's warm, dry car.

Some of us had been out there running for 7+ hours, and there was not so much as an offer of a space blanket to warm us up at the finish.There wasn't a spot to dry off and warm up at the finish line (other than porta potties?).  Of course, runners could leave a drop bag at the half-way point/finish line, but it was laughable. Fortunately I double bagged my gear, as it was sitting in a pool of water when I finished. There wasn't even shelter for the gear or a dry place to swap things out. And times when I needed to sit down and deal with my shoes, there was nowhere to sit at the aid station.

I just don't want to pay to run another lonely marathon (actually, to be clear, not lonely, because I dragged Belia out-- but I didn't need a race for that!). For my race fee I got a bib number, a handful of Chips Ahoy and a few small cups of nuun. The course was lovely, but I have run it several times. Honestly, I think I would have rather run some shorter loops around Cougar with friends, swinging back to a car to change clothes or shoes and refuel in shelter.

Despite all of this complaining-- I do appreciate the efforts of those who worked hard to put the race on. The volunteers were out there for a very long time, and it was no less cold and wet for them!

Glad this marathon is behind me, and I can learn from it and hopefully have a great race at Deception Pass. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Joy of a Running Group and My Third Marathon

I first ran with the High Heel Running Group in April 2012. It was over two years later that I visited them again for a run. I know, what?! If memory serves, that second run was August-ish 2014.

That second run was good, there were only three of us, so that made it super easy for me to fit in to the group. The next few times I showed up I felt so incredibly intimidated. All these amazing trail running women and then lil' ol' me! Being an introvert who was very new to trail running, it was difficult for me to figure out where I fit in. After a few runs and getting to know a handful of group members more one-on-one, it got much easier. Faces became familiar. The route became second nature. I got more comfortable chatting with the girls. Then I even, (crazy!), made some friends. It's been a really fun group to not only run with, but use as a resource. The HHRG is literally the only reason I haven't deactivated my facebook account-- I need to keep up with what's happening with the group!

It isn't always easy for me to stick my neck out and make new friends, so I am glad this group exists, and that I have been not only outgoing enough, but patient enough with myself to find my place in it.

My very favorite thing  about the group runs is when I end up sharing a bunch of miles with another runner I just met at the trailhead and the conversation flows super easily.

Last Sunday I had that exact sort of run. It wasn't an HHRG sanctioned run (those are on Saturday) but it was with women who are part of that group. Had such a wonderful time. It was my last run before this coming Saturday's marathon. MARATHON. My third one, and I am again running the Grand Ridge marathon, which was the same one I did last fall as my first ever marathon.

Part of me is looking forward to it, part of me isn't. I tend to get easily bored, so re-running routes I know well, or worse, doing loops multiple times in one run, is so tedious. This race will hold both of these challenges for me. Besides getting in a good, solid long run, the marathon will be perfect practice in mental strength.

On a tangent, I listened to a wonderful Trail Runner Nation podcast the other day on my five hour run. It was an interview with Matt Fitzgerald about his new book called "How Bad Do You Want It?" and they chatted about mental strength. Oh, man. It resonated with me. I think for me it's not so much about pushing myself harder, but rather, do I have the mental strength to be out there for hours upon hours to reach my goals. I remember when an hour run felt insanely long, then I ran for two hours in a half marathon, then there was my first time running over two hours, then I pushed further and further. I ran for four hours. Then I ran for six hours and 15 minutes in the marathon before going for six hours and 59 minutes in the 50k. Then I went for over seven hours on Mt. Rainier. Twice.

But that's still nothing compared to a hundred miler. Do I have it in me to run for 30+? As an ultrarunner, a huge part of the challenge can come from just wrapping your brain around that challenge. Because your legs will follow. So I will practice that on Saturday.

As of now the weather looks less than favorable for the marathon. Last year it was below freezing. This year it looks like it will be wet, wet, wet. The trails will be more difficult simply because of mud. What that means for me is likely a slower race than last year.

But! I did finally settle on a new rain jacket. I ordered five and ended up keeping the one I knew I wanted all along: the Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket.

Women's Ultra Jacket
Hello, lovely.

I also tried the Outdoor Research Helium II and the Patagonia Houdini, both in men's and women's sizes. Before I ever even set foot outside I knew the UD jacket was the one. It has so many more features than the other jackets! And, well, costs quite a bit more than the other ones, too, let's not beat around the bush. But it honestly fit me better than any other jacket, so that was what sealed the deal. 

This jacket will travel with me on Saturday. Looking forward to its company. Marathon #3, here I come!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Solid Runs and New Gear

Finally, finally!, I feel like I had a really solid week of training. One really solid week spells success for my upcoming 50k, right?! Let's hope so.

Last Sunday I had a five hour run on the training calendar. Yes, five hours. That seems kind of ridiculous, right? It turns out that when I allow myself to just sink in to the enjoyment of the time on the trails, five hours can be really wonderful. This past weekend we had some crazy weather move in to the area that seriously threatened to thwart my training. The original plan was to meet a few ladies for a run on Rattlesnake Mountain. Unfortunately rain and wind advisories scared off several of the runners (with very good reason! Mountains can be a dangerous place when trees are falling and ground is sliding out from under you!) But my faithful adventurers Belia and Lisa still wanted to get out there and check it out. Just to see. Forecast be damned! After some back and forth and a change of trails in case we needed to bail due to weather, we got in a glorious 3+ hour run. There ended up being no rain and very little wind. What's up with that, forecast?! I went around and around in my head about what to do about my scheduled five hour run and just decided to get the rest of the time in after getting back home from the trails. I dropped off Lisa then drove home, walked in the door, said hi to the family, changed my shoes, then headed outside for more miles. 

I fit in my full five hours. It was fantastic. Yes, I was tired when I was done, but mostly I just felt awesome. 

The next day was a one hour recovery run, and that, too, felt great. Usually my recovery runs are the hardest of the week-- stiff, heavy legs make for sluggish running.

Less than two weeks until the marathon, just over a month until the 50k!

Remember the fancy new running pack I was all excited about?  I returned it. Turns out that it really wasn't the right pack for me. There were a few major issues with it, the biggest being that the fit ended up being all wrong. Can't fix that! I wore it on one run and it was just bad news. Don't even get me started on the soft flask bottles feeling like external floppy breasts on my chest (and really don't get me started on what it felt like to drink from them!). Fortunately, the shop I bought it from was super obliging when I brought it back.

I couldn't leave the running store empty-handed, however, so I got a new pair of road shoes to replace my Sauconys that are wearing out. I went with a pair of Pearl Izumi Road N3s, which I have high hopes of loving as much as I love my Pearl Izumi Trail M2s. My first run in them, which involved hill sprints, went wonderfully! More cushion than I am used to in a road shoe, which felt nice and cozy.

Mama's got new kicks!