Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Race Report: Bayshore Half Marathon -- The Power of Teamwork

Most people do not think of running as a "team" activity. Unless you ran cross country or track in high school or college, running is pretty much considered an individual sport. The stereotype of the "loneliness of the long distance runner," became a stereotype because there is a large portion of truth there. Most runners, especially marathoners, do put in long and sometimes lonely miles in pursuit of their goals, but I have found runners to be some of the more sociable people I know -- hence the popularity of running clubs. Runners tend to like to get together to run, talk about running, eat, and sometimes race.

I do not consider myself much of a social person. In fact, I am actually quite a loner most of the time, but I do belong to my share of running clubs. Right now, I am an active member of three clubs, and though I do not keep a current membership, I actively follow the goings on of two more clubs back in California which I had belonged to for many years. You may think I am digressing from the point here, which is the Bayshore race report, but I just needed to lay a little groundwork before I get to the actual race report.

This past weekend was the Bayshore Marathon and HalfMarathon in Traverse City, Michigan. This is the goal race for the spring training series with my road running club, Team Playmakers. I ran the half again this year. Unlike last year, where this was a goal race for me, this year I was woefully  unprepared for 13 miles of fast road running. My ultra training has left me fit enough for the ups and downs of a 6 hour trail run, but it has not left me fit for the continuous fast running that a road race requires. However, my race performance is definitely not the interesting part of this weekend. What was interesting about the weekend for me was the power of teamwork.

I was an MIA team member this winter. Between the cold weather, my ultra training and traveling, and my desire to sleep in on cold winter mornings, I made exactly one of the team training sessions prior to Bayshore. I followed the team goings-on through the Facebook page, but I was not present for much of the training. Perhaps that is why the spirit of the team was so evident to me this weekend.

The week before the marathon and half were tense ones on the Playmaker's discussion group. It seemed everyone had some variety of ache, pain, or problem that was a signal of impending doom (or at least a sign that the goal would not be accomplished). The team spirit and support began to show itself then, and it continued right up to race day.

Jerry and I arrived at Traverse City on Friday afternoon and connected with my friend and teamie Kate,  who had brought along three other teamies, Tina, Mike, and Nicole, as well as her incredibly supportive husband, Mark, and three kids, for a pre-race pasta dinner at Fazzoli's. Spirits were high, as were the nerves. Tina and Mike were about to run their first marathons. Nicole and Kate were veterans, but Kate was attempting a Boston qualifier time which was 12 minutes faster than her previous (and first marathon).

We had a great time and then headed over to packet pick-up. There is not much of an expo for the Bayshore race. There is basically just the Running Fit booth, a few tables for various groups and races, but no real expo. However,  packet pick-up allowed us to run into more of our Playmakers teammates and coaches. Maybe because I had no pressure to perform the next day and maybe because I hadn't seen many of my teammates for a while, I was really enjoying the social atmosphere and excitement.

After packet pick-up, we all headed back to our respective lodgings. Tina popped over to our campsite for me to tape up her knee with some Rock Tape. She had been struggling with knee pain for several weeks and decided to give the taping a try.  We chose a very festive blue argyle pattern. No one would miss her as she passed.

The Bayshore course is set up so that the marathon is an out and back, while the half is point-to-point. The half starts at the marathon turn-around a half hour after the marathon start. The course is a two lane road that winds along the bay with beautiful views. The half marathoners meet the marathoners about 4 miles into the race, so those running the half get to cheer their marathon friends as they pass.

The drawback of that arrangement is that the half marathoners have to get up really early to get the buses to the start. I had to catch the shuttle at the campground at 5:00 for the trip to the high school to catch the bus to the start. I got on one of the early buses and got to the start line about 5:40 for a 7:30 start. It was a long wait, but the up side was that for about the first hour the lines for the port-a-johns were short. I had found a Playmaker's teamie, Theresa, at the high school and was really happy to have company for the long wait. Eventually other Playmaker's teamies-- recognizable by their red Team Playmakers gear-- came by to say hi. Unfortunately, except for Michelle, I did not know many of their names. Our fearless leader Ann, rode up on her bike and herded as many of us together as she could find for a team picture before the start.

The race start was uneventful and organized. I headed off down the course, and it was just as I had remembered. I slipped into my planned 8:00 pace and zoned out a bit waiting for the action to start with the approaching marathoners. At about 4.5 miles the bikes leading the first marathon man came into sight. For the next mile or so, I entertained myself by whooping and hollering for the leading marathoners as they passed by. Soon the marathoners started coming in packs, and I knew it was time to start watching for Playmakers.

I already had it in my head the order my teamies should be approaching. The group that I normally would train with (if I had actually been attending the training sessions) would be in the lead. I expected to see either Paul, Geoff, or Dr. Tom and Hannah first, but I was not sure what order they would be in. Sure enough, Paul came into view first. He looked to be doing great and on pace for a good PR. Geoff came next, and I almost missed Dr. Tom and Hannah in the crowd, but managed to get a quick shout out before they slipped past.

Next I started looking for my dear friend and sometimes training partner, Kate. She was the real reason I had decided to go through with the race at Bayshore that I obviously was not trained for. She was hoping for a Boston qualifying time of 3:40 or faster. I believed that she could do it, but it was going to take a really perfectly executed race on her part because it was going to be a huge PR for her. She had done some really great training, and I was more excited about her performance than anything else for the weekend. Sure enough she came next and looking good. I had lost the ability to do math by that time, but her smile made me think that she must be right on pace.

I must have sent Kate all my energy as she passed because it was about at that time that the wheels fell off for me. I was not used to 9 miles of continuous running at that speed and began to suffer. I had two really horrible miles in there, but was continuously uplifted by the red Playmakers shirts meeting me and the opportunity to cheer on the marathoners as they went by. Soon, I passed the Playmaker's tent on the course and Coach Mike gave me a little boost as I went by.  I was happy to see Tina not soon after and see that she was still running and smiling.

As I rounded the corner onto the track I heard my name and saw the smiling face of my friend Janet, the one who I had cheered to her first marathon finish just a while back, returning the favor and cheering me in. I finished the race a little off my goal of 1:45, in 1:47.07. It was 6 minutes slower than last year, which bummed me out just a little, but it was really about what I deserved based on the training I had been doing. The IT band problem really made me drop my mileage in the crucial 6 weeks leading up to the race, so all-in-all, I was satisfied with the performance. I picked up my drop bag and found Jer. The next order of business was to check the results. I was shocked and amazed to see that I had come in 5th in my age group! Medals in this race go down to 5th place, so I was pretty excited to be getting an award. With that bit of happy news, we headed up to the stands to cheer in my fellow Playmakers and wait to see how the marathoners had done. 

As I sat in the stands cheering in the red jerseys I was so proud of my team. I knew that each of the finishers had a story and had dealt with and overcome many obstacles to be there. The looks of determination and triumph on their faces as they rounded the corner and headed down the finishing straight was priceless. I cursed my phone camera which would not let me get close-ups of the finishers.

Soon the marathoners started to finish. I anxiously watched as the clock approached 3:25. I knew that my friends Geoff and Paul were both shooting for times under 3:30. I was particularly pulling for Geoff, as he had just missed his BQ time at Kalamazoo by a few seconds a few weeks before and was giving it another shot. Paul came around the corner first at a little over 3:26, an awesome time for him!! He totally deserved it because he is one of the hardest workers I know. Geoff came just a minute or so later in 3:28!! He got his time as well!

Next came Kate ...  I cannot tell you how anxious I was. She was trying for 3:38. By 3:37 on the finish clock, I was standing at the front of the bleachers gripping the rail. As 3:38 went by with no Kate, I started to get worried. 3:39 on the clock and still no Kate.  As 3:40 approached my heart was breaking. Just then Kate came around the corner. I could tell she was really tired but still pushing for the finish. She crossed at what I thought was around 3:40:15. Oh man. I felt so bad for her. She had obviously run a great race but had missed it by just a few seconds.

Jer and I shuffled off the bleachers and headed over to the finish area. When I finally found her, she said, "I made it! I made it!"  I had forgotten that the time on the clock was gun time. Her chip time was 3:39.31!!! I was so happy! Her parents were there (who are also runners), as well as her husband, kids, and many of her Playmaker's friends and training partners. It was an amazing moment, so full of joy.  Paul was there, as well, and there were congratulations all around.

We congregated over at the Playmaker's team area, as one by one we cheered in our fellow runners. Each one was a victory and a celebration. Soon we got news from the course. Tina's knee had given out and she was walking and in pain at about mile 21. Erica texted Tina to see if she needed Paul or me to run out to help. She said no -- another of our teammates, Jim, was there on his bike and helping her through it. I also found out later that Coach Lynn, after running his own marathon, was out on the course helping some of the other runners in to the finish. What a guy!!  Soon Tina came around the corner, running, and crossed the finish line triumphant. It was not the time she had hoped for, but she had done it. It was a huge moment for her, as she had faced and overcome many personal and physical challenges to get to that finish line and completing the marathon had symbolic value beyond just the accomplishment itself. 

After the race, a group of us met in Kate's hotel room, with Playmaker's teammates popping in and out all afternoon. What a great experience. I thought back to my first marathon. I was there without any team support. I finished (with a BQ time) and had no one to share it with (except a husband who was extremely grumpy and anxious to get on the road and head home). It really struck me then how great the team experience is, the camaraderie and support. Whether it is a good or bad day, with a group like this, there is always someone there with a smile and  words of support and congratulations. There is always someone there who can empathize because whether fast or slow, we all go through much the same experiences in running a marathon, experience the same highs and lows, trials and tribulations.

One of the things that writing this blog has done is help me to appreciate and reflect on the value of these experiences. I think that often we run the race and when it is over, we may focus on the result and forget to reflect on the value of the experience. What I learned about the spirit of teamwork here will linger long after I forget what time I ran. Thanks Playmaker's!

Here is a look at my Team Playmaker's Bayshore weekend:

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Have A Winner!!

We have a winner!!! The winner of the Endorphin Warrior training bracelet is Kate Skowronek!! She will be the proud owner of a beautiful "Believe" bracelet.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Preparing to Run a Hot Weather Marathon

This weekend is our local club goal race, the Bayshore Marathon/Half Marathon  in Traverse City. Everyone is suffering through the anxieties and aches and pains that pop up during taper. Some are worrying over whether their little niggling injuries are going to keep them from reaching their goals. Others are studying their training logs to reassure themselves that they are well prepared. The newest worry that has popped up on everyone's radar is the weather.

This past weekend in Michigan was the warmest one this year. It hit the 80s yesterday, and that made everyone a bit uneasy about next weekend. I am not immune to this worry and have been to weather.com twice already today to see what they are predicting for next Saturday's race. Right now, the forecast is perfect (51 at start/71 as a the high). However, what is bothering everyone is that the days on both sides of that are 50/82 and 62/91! Not exactly ideal racing conditions.

This has everyone wondering what to do if the weather heats up on race day. The truth is that there is not a lot that can be done beyond adjusting one's expectations some. Everyone will be a little (to a lot) slower if the weather gets too hot. Still, there are some little "tricks" that one can use to help make running in the heat the best experience it can be.

1. If you expect it to be hot on race day, start early to acclimate. This one is tricky because it needs to be started about two weeks out from the race. A lot of runners go to great lengths not to run when it is too warm out,  but running always when the temperatures are ideal does not prepare you for a hotter race on race day. There are physiological changes that can occur that can help you run better in the heat, including increased plasma volume, decrease in heart rate,  decreases in sweat sodium, etc. The following table shows some of the adaptations that occur and the days of acclimatization at which these occur:

(from Henderson, Bill "Heat Acclimation for Runners") 

2. Hydrate well in the week before the race: One thing you want to be sure of is that you are fully hydrated on race day. Many runners are chronically dehydrated. You want to be sure that you are getting enough fluid, but you also want to be sure that you are getting corresponding electrolytes. Drinking large quantities of water the week before a race can wash valuable electrolytes out of your system. Be sure to include sports drinks with electrolytes in your pre-race hydration strategy. If you are worried about calories, use a 0 or lo-cal option rather than the full sugar versions. I use Power Ade Zero for my prerace hydration.

3. Salt your food the week before a race: Generally most Americans need to watch their salt intake. However, in the days before a planned marathon in hot weather, adding a little extra salt to one's meals can help assure that you have enough sodium in your system to help cover losses from excessive sweating on race day.

That covers what one can do before the race to prepare. There are also a few things to remember and a few tricks for race day itself:

4. Dress for the finish, not the start: This one is hard for me. I don't like to be cold, and 50 degrees is cold for me. However, dressing to be comfortable at the start of the race means that you will be uncomfortable when the temperatures start to rise. One piece of gear that I find invaluable these days are a pair of lightweight sleeves that one can put on and easily slide off when it warms up, such as these by Pearl Izumi . I used those effectively in my last ultra, and it was great to be able to slip them off, tuck them away, and forget about them. If you do need to cover up at the start, be sure you are layered so that you can remove the layers as the day heats up.

5. Stay out of the sun whenever possible: As the day starts to heat up, be aware of where you are running. I have seen runners suffer unnecessarily by running down the middle of the road in the sun when there was shade along the street closer to the curb. Be aware of your surroundings and run in the shade whenever you can.

6.  Stay hydrated: I know, I know -- you have heard this before, but let me see if I can give you some information that helps you rethink this. First of all, studies have shown that runners, even "seasoned runners," horribly underestimate the fluid that is needed during a race. In the article "Runners Underestimate Fluid Needs," the author reports a study  that found that "runners underestimated their sweat losses by an average of 46 percent and their fluid intake by an average of 15 percent, resulting in the runners replacing only 30 percent of their fluids lost through sweat."  She makes the following statement that should make us all stop and think: "If seasoned athletes such as these do such a poor job of judging their fluid needs, the potential for dehydration may be more severe for the average exerciser, especially during the hot summer months."  The author recommends drinking on schedule every 15 minutes during the activity.

The second thing to consider on race day is how much you are drinking. Many people actually do a better job of hydrating in training than at a race, despite there generally being more aid stations, because during training most of us take time to fully hydrate at the stops.

However, in a race two things happen. First we are in a hurry so often don't take time to get a lot of fluid in. Second, there is an issue with the cups at races and the volume of fluid in them. Most of the cups that are at the races are 8 oz cups. Those cups are often filled half full or less. How many times have we taken a cup at an aid station to find that it was less than half full? Now subtract from that the amount that is spilled from not slowing down enough to get the fluid in (I can't be the only one that does this!). At some stations, even drinking 2 cups may not get you a full 8 oz. of fluid.

A person can't just think "I drank two cups at the last aid station," and call it 16 oz. Pay attention to how many actual ounces you are consuming and make sure it is the amount that is on your plan. Also, it is now recommended by U.S.A. Track andField that runners use sports drinks, rather than water, to hydrate in hot weather. According to their press release "a sports drink with sodium and other electrolytes is preferred."  This is to avoid hyponatremia from taking in too much water and washing electrolytes out of your system.

7. Consider electrolyte tabs: This is something many road marathoners don't know much about, but which most ultrarunners swear by. When I am exerting in the heat, I sweat profusely. I lose a lot of electrolytes, and I sometimes have calf cramps at the end of races that remind me about the lost electrolytes. I do take in electrolytes in the sports drinks, but cannot get enough to compensate for my losses.

When I am running longer than an hour and a half in the summer, I take electrolyte caps, one per hour, both in training and especially in racing. There are several brands, such as Endurolytes and Succeed S Caps , both of which I have used successfully. There are also electrolyte fizz tabs, such as Endurolytes Fizz that can be put into a water bottle (which I have not tried).  If you have not tried an electrolyte replacement of some type for hot weather, you may want to. However, you know the advice: Don't try anything new on marathon day.

8. If it gets really warm, douse with water whenever possible: Arthur Lydiard, the great New Zealand distance running coach, used to have his marathon runners carry a sponge in their hands to wet themselves down in hot weather. While most of us are not likely to want to run with a sponge. Pouring a cup of water over the head can cool one off during a marathon, as can dousing one's shirt or top (just be sure that late in the marathon, when your thinking is getting fuzzy that you repeat the mantra "Water on -- Gatorade in" and not the other way around!).

These are some tips to help you cope if the weather turns warm on marathon day. While we all know that "you can't fight Mother Nature," but with this information maybe you can survive a hot race a little more comfortably.

Related Posts:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Product Review: Endorphin Warrior Training Bracelet and May Giveaway

I am not a "pretty" runner. If you have ever run with me, you probably know what I mean. If not, one look at my race photos will show you that I normally look either pained or just plain frumpy. My running clothes seldom match. My hair is usually flying all around, even when pinned down or stuffed under a doo-rag. Basically, I am a running version of What Not to Wear, greatly in need of a style intervention. One of my goals for this year is to be a "prettier" runner, both by addressing my problems in form and by investigating the idea that I could take an extra minute or two to look good on the runs.

Since I can't afford a whole new running wardrobe, I decide to start small, with my accessories. To that end I was taking a look at the running jewelry available. One day on my Facebook page an ad for Endorphin Warrior popped up. I saw their Warrior Training Bracelet, and it was love at first sight.

The Warrior Bracelets are 5/8" wide leather cuff bracelets with a nickel-plated metal tag with an inspirational word or phrase stamped into them. Their site says that the nickel plated tag will not rust or tarnish. When I first saw them, I loved how shiny the tag appeared, and I especially loved the inspirational words stamped on them. I am a big believer in mantras and use them when I run to help me stay focused, relaxed, or to keep going when things get tough.

Some of their best sellers are phrases like "persevere," "relentless," and "focus." They also have distance braces, such as "13.1," "26.2" and for the triathletes out there "swim, bike, run," and "70.3."  The site said they are meant to be worn during training and racing.

I finally made the leap and contacted Endorphin Warrior to find out if they would send me a bracelet to review and donate one for our May giveaway. They graciously agreed, and referred me to the sizing instructions. The warrior bracelets are sold in sizes to ensure a good fit. Instructions are on the site for measuring your wrist, basically you measure the circumference of your wrist and add a half inch. I measured, sent a message, and soon my Persevere bracelet came in the mail.

When I opened the envelope, the first thing I noticed about the bracelet was that it was more lightweight and supple than I expected it to be. I had in mind some of the leather cuff bracelets I had bought in Mexico back in the 70s, which were heavy and course leather. This bracelet is nothing like that. The leather is very soft and of good quality. The shine on the nickel plate was as beautiful as pictured on the site. The snap was of good quality. The letters were stamped in nicely, crisp and even.

I slipped it on my right wrist over a week ago and have only taken it off to shower. (I am not sure that I need to do this because they are made to be worn during training, but I love it so much, I didn't want to take a chance.) It sits comfortably on my wrist and still looks great. I was worried that it would bother me when I run, but amazingly, it doesn't, which is saying a lot considering how irritable I can get on a long run.

After Gnaw Bone, Warrior Bracelet still on wrist
My initial concerns with the bracelet would how it would hold up if the leather got wet when I was sweating. I was afraid it would get unsightly sweat marks in the leather. So far, this has not happened. I wore the bracelet for a very warm and  muddy 50krace last weekend at Gnaw Bone that included a very wet and splashy run up the middle of a stream, but it still looks as good as when I took it out of the package. Occasionally the metal plate gets a fingerprint or loses its shine a little, but it buffs right back up to a like-new shine with a soft cloth.  I panicked the first time I got a scratch on the soft leather, but amazingly just running a damp cloth over the leather band removes the superficial scratches and makes it look like new again. After a week of wear, I have not yet put any deep scratches in either the metal or the band itself that I could  not wipe off, although I am sure eventually that may happen.

As I said, I am partial to mantras, and I did use the "persevere" idea several times during the race last weekend. When I was scrambling up the steep slopes on all fours or climbing some of the steeper climbs, I would glance down and see the "persevere" and smile. Ultrarunning is all about perseverance, and I liked having that little reminder that all I needed to do is hang on and keep moving forward to triumph.

The bottom line is that I love my Warrior Training Bracelet, and I am already thinking of my next one. I think it will be "Relentless" to help me step up my game a little for some of the more competitive events I hope to have later in the summer.

I also feel good about the company itself. Here is their mission statement:

"At Endorphin Warrior, our aim is to help you train, perform and live with greater strength of body and mind. We make products with positive and powerful messaging to wear while running, cycling, working out, sweating, racing - or all day long - to help you stay strong-minded and focused...and help you train harder, improve performance, overcome challenges, achieve your goals and live stronger."

They donate 1% of their sales to various non-profit organizations that "help young people learn how to live stronger and healthier through running, exercise, and athletics." This year, they are donating to Girls On the Run. The Warrior Training Bracelets are made in the USA.  Besides the bracelets, they have a wide variety of other items, including some very nice pendants and leather cord bracelets, that you may want to check out.

One interesting thing to note (Corey, are you out there?) is the company also sponsors an annual Haiku Poetry Contest for athletes, which is kind of an unusual thing for a company to do, but it fits with their philosophy. It is worth checking the Home page on their site just to take a look at some of the previous winning entries. It will having you composing them in your head on your long runs (some of my trail running friends are way ahead of them on this one).

Which brings me to the information about this month's contest!! If you would like to enter to win a Warrior Training bracelet of your choice, here is what you need to do:

2. Take a look at the Warrior Training Bracelets and decide which one you would like to win
3. Go to the Through a Running Lens Facebook fan page, "Like" the page if you have not already done so, and post a comment to the Warrior Training Bracelet Giveaway post letting me know which Warrior Training Bracelet you would like to win.

The contest will end on Friday, May 25th at midnight. One entry per person. The winner will be announced here and on the Facebook page on Sunday, May 27th. What a great way to celebrate your triumph at Bayshore full or half marathon, or any other race you have planned for Memorial Weekend! Good luck!!

(Just a reminder, if you decide to purchase any Endorphin Warrior products, now or at a future date, please click on the links either here, at the top of the blog, or on my Facebook page to help support the blog and to show the company that their support of this blog is appreciated.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone Race Report: Redemption at Gnaw Bone!!

Packet Pickup

My second race in the four race series is in the books. Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone turned out to be a much better experience than the Disaster at Green Swamp. In fact, I loved the Gnaw Bone course, and it has now become my favorite of the 50ks that I have run.

Camp L&L on Raccoon Ridge
Leslie and I drove up to the campground Friday night and did packet pick-up. As we were entering the campground, we could see the course marker flags popping out of the woods here and there in the park. It helped raise our excitement level. We also could not believe the mountains around there. If we have hills in Michigan, then these were definitely mountains (albeit small ones by West Coast standards, but mountains still).
Leslie at highest point

Leslie and I both have the same pre-race favorite meal of mashed potatoes, so we left packet pick-up, went to Walgreens for some Ivy Block, and then stopped at Bob Evans for some pre-race carbo loading. We ordered this dish that is basically a biscuit with mashed potatoes on top, covered with chicken noodle gravy (with thick homemade-style noodles). Oink!! We were so full walking out of there we weren't even sure we would be able to run in the morning.

The next morning, 4:30 came around extra early because the inconsiderate guys in the camp site next to us had been blaring their stereo until about 11:30 the night before. As I got out of the tent to run to the outhouse, I could see all the other DWD people in the campground by the soft glows coming from the tents.  By the time we headed to the race site, it was still dark, but Randy  (the race director) had promised in the info sheet for the race that it would be daylight by the start. I was trusting him because I had no light.

He was right. By start time the sun was starting to come up and lights were not necessary. It was a great temperature, about 50 degrees I would guess. I had chosen a sleeveless bike jersey, removable sleeves, and shorts to run in. The bike jersey was so that I would have good coverage on my back for the hydration pack and a zipper up the front (I wonder why they don't make running shirts with front zippers and back pockets -- very handy).  I did not want a repeat of the chafing disaster from Green Swamp. I also did not want a repeat of the knee disaster, so I had taped my knee up again with the trusty Rock Tape, this time in a festive pink argyle design. I was a little nervous about the knee but much encouraged by its ability to make it through the Trail Marathon two weeks ago. I felt like I had a good chance of finishing this one without a problem.

There were more people at the start than at Green Swamp. I am going to guess close to two hundred in the 50k/50 mile combined start, with I don't know how many more in the full, half marathon, 10k, and relays. They started at later times. Leslie, in the  half, did not start until 9:00, so she had a long wait from my 6:15 start. I buried myself somewhere mid-pack. I knew from the course profile that we began with a long hill climb up to the ridges where the race was run, so I was already planning a slow start.

We ran out of the start area, crossed a bridge, and were soon on the muddy horse trail that would take us to the top of the ridge. When I say mud, I am talking deep, dark, shoe-sucking mud. There was not a lot of running happening on my end through this part; between the hill itself and trying to keep my shoes dry I was moving more at a forced march pace than a run. I resisted the impulse to check the pace on my watch and pushed out of my mind the idea that this would wreak havoc with my average pace per mile. Remember, I am running with a new "savor the moment" attitude.  As we neared the top of the ridge, I appreciated the slow pace because it let me have time to notice the really pretty pink and blue sunrise that was going on around me.

Once we reached the ridge, we moved onto a single track and the fun began. The next several miles were very runnable single track, with the usual ups and downs one would expect in a trail race. By that time I was warmed up and removed the sleeves. I again appreciated the bike jersey's back pockets and stuck an arm warmer in each side and forgot about them.

The next memorable section for me was a few miles later when we were running along a ridge approaching a lake. There was heavy tree cover, but I looked to the right, down the slope, and it appeared that we were running above the clouds. I knew that we had not climbed that high, so I knew that what I was seeing had to  be water. As we came down onto the dam at the end of the lake, I realized what I had been seeing. There was a slight mist rising off the lake which had created the illusion of clouds I had seen through the trees -- very pretty.

As the early part of the race progressed, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of downhill and easy running. Although the course profile showed that there were lots of up and down,  the early miles of the race were actually very comfortable and fun for me. The course was also well marked, so I did not have a lot of worries about getting lost. I only had one moment of indecision. I had left an aid station and was on my own with no one in sight in front  of or behind me. I was padding along happy as can be when suddenly there was a pink streamer on a tree and another one off in the distance but not on any type of trail. Now in a normal trail race, I probably would not have thought twice and would have kept right on heading down the trail, but this is Dances with Dirt, and I know the race director's penchant for taking runners bushwhacking.

I headed off the trail (praying there was no poison ivy) through the brush to the pink streamer on the far tree. I stopped and did a complete 360. I could see no other pink markers except the one I had just left. I stood there trying to decide what to do. At that moment I heard runners coming down the trail, so I gave out a yell. It was three women whom I had been leap-frogging with for most of the race and a guy that had come up behind.  The women had run the course the year before, and they were sure that the course stayed on the trail at this spot. We decided to head up the trail a ways to see if we hit another trail marker. I tucked in behind them, and this started a beautiful relationship that lasted for most of the rest of the race.

Our group of four women ran together for the next many miles. I found out that one of the women was in my age group, one was 55-59, and that the other was in her 20s and had never run farther than a marathon before. They were running a perfect pace for me, and although I usually don't like to run in a group, I really did enjoy their company in this race. They liked to stay longer in the aid stations than I did, so I would usually leave ahead of them and they would catch me on the next big uphill (I am improving, but I do still suck on the hills).

On one of the times when I was alone after an aid station, probably somewhere around mile 13, I was passed by a 50 mile guy. As we were chatting, I made the observation that the hills were not as bad as I thought they would be. He laughed and told me that the second half of the course was much harder than the first. I appreciated the  heads-up and spent the next mile or so wondering what I was in for, but then remembered my new attitude and decided I would enjoy those hills when I came to them.

I will tell you that no words were ever more true than those. The second half of the course was definitely a bear.  As we pulled out of the aid station somewhere around 18 miles, one of the women said, "This is my favorite part of the course. This is where it gets interesting," or something along those lines. The next thing I know we are heading off trail for one of those "stupid sections" that the race director is famous for. The next two miles were mostly spent trying to follow the markers off-trail, climbing over downed trees, crossing streams, and at one point climbing straight up a muddy vertical surface on all fours. It was  a blast!

After we came out of that section, we had another aid station break and did some really nice running down to a second lake. As we ran along the edge of the lake, I could not help but think that we had to get back up to ridge level. I knew there was a climb in my future, but imagine my surprise when I found that to get back up to ridge level we had to climb about 20 flights of wooden stairs (about 6 to 8 stairs per flight). These were particularly annoying because the rise on the stairs was about two inches higher than my legs wanted to lift at that point. I guess it was that way for one of the other women I was running with too, as she took a bad fall on the stairs, really smacking her shin in the process. We waited while she tried to overcome the pain and start running again. Soon we were back on our way, but the group I was running with were starting to struggle some while I was still feeling good.

At about mile 26 we popped out of the woods and into the campground. There was an unofficial aid station there, so we stopped for some water and Gatorade. I was ready to go and happy to see this section. I knew this section because I had run it the night before to keep my streak alive. It was a little over a mile of pavement through the park before getting back onto the trail to head back to the finish. I also knew that beyond the pavement a considerable amount of those last few miles had to be downhill to get us off the ridges and down to the finish. On the pavement I was feeling good. I noticed that my group started to fall behind, but I did not realize how much until I hit the official aid station at the end of the pavement. They were nowhere in sight.

I did not need much aid at that point because I had fueled up at the unofficial station just a mile or so back, so I decided to head out. I was feeling a little guilty about leaving the group, but I also did not want to wait because I wanted the best time I could get. I started off down the two-track trail that would take us back down to Mike's Music and Dance Barn for the finish. Most of this section was good running, except for one little thing: more mud.

I was not as successful this time in staying out of the mud. There was just no way to avoid it in a few spots. I stepped carefully into the footsteps of previous runners, preferably males with size 13 shoes. I was doing alright until suddenly I lost my balance just a bit. My left foot missed the spot I was aiming for and went straight into the deep mud. My right foot, luckily, was on the bank. However, as I went to take the next step, I found that I could not move my left foot. It was stuck. I pulled harder and felt my foot start to slip out of the shoe. No way I was going to let that happen!! 

What to do?  Time is ticking! Well, the only thing I could figure out to do was stick my hands into that nasty black mud and dig out my foot. I started digging with one hand, using my other hand to balance so that I would not go face first into the slime. Finally I heard the satisfying "slurp" that comes when the shoe finally breaks loose from the suction and was able to pull out my foot, shoe attached, and make it to the other side of the mudhole. My shoes weighed about a pound each. I stopped for a second to use a stick to scrape the mud off my shoes and to rub my hand off in a patch of what I was praying was not something that would cause a nasty rash later.

Amazingly, with all the time I wasted, there was still nobody coming up behind me. I started running again and soon reached the top  of the grassy ski hill that I knew was very close to the finish. I picked my way carefully down the slope, keeping my eyes open for snakes they had warned us about, and started through the high grass. The trail at this point was about a shoe's width wide and through grass that was higher than knee deep. Things were going well until I caught my foot in a clump of grass and fell. This has been my biggest fear since the ruptured spleen. What would happen if I fell?  I am happy to report that what happened is what had always happened before that fateful day of the ruptured spleen: I got back up and kept running. I felt ten pounds lighter, though, to be relieved of the weight of that question. I could fall again, get back up, and not break myself.

The next section of the course, the last half mile, was classic Dances with Dirt. We ran up the middle of a stream. The water level was low this year, so the stream was anywhere from ankle deep to knee deep in places, and it felt absolutely fabulous!! What I did learn about my Pure Grits at that point was that they are rock magnets. I had forgotten to put on the gators that I had brought, so ended up with about a dozen little pea-sized pebbles in each shoe. The last few hundred yards to the finish were like running barefoot on a gravel road because of all the rocks in my shoes, but I did not care. I was finished, and the race had been, as my son would say "a blasty-blast."

I crossed the finish line in 6:47:25, which was not the sub 6:30 that I had hoped for, but which was still respectable, I thought. I was absolutely shocked when I told them my age group and they said I had gotten first place and handed me my "gnaw bone."

Leslie and I with our bones
I was not sure if Leslie was in yet or not, but I grabbed a muffin (I was starving) and headed out to find her. She was in, so I proudly showed off my bone. She said, "How did you know you placed?" I said they asked me at the finish. (Unlike road races, at trail ultras awards are often given out as you cross the finish line because with the runners finishing over such a huge spread of time, a post-race awards ceremony is usually not practical.)  She said that nobody had asked her. I told her to go check. She did and came back proudly displaying her bone as well. She had also gotten first in her age group.

Post Race Party Getting Started

The post-race party was already starting at that time. The keg had been tapped and people were stretched out on the ground or in lawn chairs cheering on the finishers. We were anxious to join the party, but the bite valve on my hydration pack had been leaking throughout the race, and I was soaked in blue Gatorade from the waist down. I REALLY wanted to get out of my soggy shorts, so we made a quick trip up to the campground to change clothes.

Country band at Mike's Music and Dance Barn

By the time we got back, most of the 50k people had finished. I saw my three women friends at the finish line. They had a rough final section and had finished about 13 minutes behind me. I was glad to see them and thanked them for helping me through the race. Then Leslie and I settled down with Leslie's new friend from the half to wait for the woman's husband to finish the 50k. 

By that time the country band was playing, and the food was ready.  Mike's pulled pork, ranch beans, and cole slaw definitely did not disappoint. Leslie enjoyed the beer on tap while I stuck to Diet Cokes so that I could get us back to the campground in one piece.

We spent the next several hours cheering in the late 50k runners, the 50 milers, and being entertained by the costumed relayers finishing their race. It was a great atmosphere, very fun and laid back. I also saw one of my RUT friends, Andrew, who finished the 50 miles. His next race is Western States!! How exciting!  

Red Hat  Hot Ladies Relay Team
Eventually, things started to wind down (somewhere around 6 pm, I would guess), and Leslie and I decided to head into town in search of more grub (I was still hungry  even after two pulled pork sandwiches).  We drove into the town of Nashville, which is a really cute little arts, crafts, and antiques town and a popular tourist destination. We found a local ice cream shop and got some ice cream and walked around a little. Amazingly the legs did not feel too bad at that point.

All in all, the entire race, from start to finish, was a great experience. I will be heading back to Gnaw Bone next year and look forward to tackling the course again. It is a beautiful and challenging ultra, with a little bit of everything. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Quest for the Buckle Part 2: Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone

This weekend I am off to complete the second 50k in the four 50k Dances with Dirt (DWD) series that I have as a major goal for the year. In case you missed my earlier post, my goal this year is the coveted Boned, Bloodied, Burned, and Bruised belt buckle. To pick up this little bit of bling, I must complete the four Dances With Dirt 50ks.

I completed the first one in March at Green Swamp, Florida. It was a disaster, with me walking the last 16 miles because of an IT band injury. I am hoping for redemption at this weekend's run. Notice I did not say "race." That is because I will not be "racing" here. I will be attempting to complete the distance without further irritating my nearly-healed IT band. 

Each one of the DWD races has a different character and a different challenge. DWD Gnaw Bone is known for two things: hills and mud. Here is the course profile:

Highlights of the race include a stretch down the center of a stream and a free-for-all down a ski slope (make your own trail). There is also a relay going on at the same time that gets pretty wild and crazy. For a taste of what the race is like, take a look at the video below:

Gnaw Bone, Indiana, where this race takes place, is too far to drive to the morning of the race. That means another running road trip. Because of the logistics of traveling with our menagerie (2 dogs, 2 cats, and a parrot), my husband and loyal crew member, has decided to sit this one out.

I was heading off to Gnaw Bone solo when my good friend Leslie, who is always up for doing something crazy, decided that she could come too and run the half marathon.  Awesome! Now we have a girls' camping and running road trip. Too much fun!!

So, tonight I am loading up my little car Katie with our tent, camping gear, and running gear. We hit the road bright and early tomorrow morning for our running adventure.  We will be camping at Raccoon Ridge with a bunch of other DWD crazies. The race is Saturday. Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Final Update: Autopsy Result in for Micah True

After a month of waiting, the autopsy results are finally in. Micah True, Caballo Blanco, died of heart disease, plain old cardiomyopathy, with an enlarged left ventricle. While they did find some abrasions on his extremities, there was no sign of serious injury. He had caffeine in his system, mild dehydration, and it appears it was just "his time," plain and simple. While most of us are relieved to have some closure, it also reminds all of us of our mortality.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Running Streaks: How Long Can You Go?

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier

Have you ever streaked? No, I don't mean that bare-naked running popular at football and baseball stadiums in the sixties and seventies, the ones that usually ended badly with the streaker getting tackled by security. I mean a running streak. 

What is a running streak? It is just a period of consecutive days of running. If you have never heard of running streaks and the people who have undertaken this practice, it is pretty interesting and amazing (or stupid and ridiculous, depending on who you ask).

There is actually a United States Running Streak Association (USRSA), which is part of the larger Streak Runners International. There is an application form and a $20 application fee. The rules are pretty simple: "A running streak is defined by SRI/USRSA as running at least one continuous mile (1.61 kilometers) within each calendar day under one’s own body power (without the utilization of any type of health or mechanical aid other than prosthetic devices)." Applicants must keep running logs or other evidence of their streak to submit if requested. To join, runners must have a streak of one year or more.

The association keeps records. Some of the streaks are truly amazing. Right now, the person with the longest running active streak is Mark Covert, a 61 year old teacher and coach from Lancaster, CA, who as of today has been streaking for 15, 995 days, which is 43.79 years for those who are mathematically challenged. Amazing!!  He is not alone. Close on his heels is John Sutherland, also 61, who is at 15,688 days (42.95 years).  The longest running streak by a woman had been held by Julie Maxwell, who had done almost 34 years (12,212 days to be exact), but she slipped and fell last December, breaking her foot and ending the streak. The new women's record holder is Barabara Latta, a 70 year old retired teacher. She is at 10,382 days (28.42 years). The number of people with streaks of ten years or more is truly amazing. The active list has 140 people with active streaks going now of ten years or more. While the list of those with "retired" streaks includes almost 80 more! (Most of the streakers have amazing stories. If you get a chance, you should take a look at the articles I have linked to above.) 

The reason I bring this up is that, as some of you might have noticed from my Daily Mile report (at right) or on the Facebook page, I have started a streak. Actually I was on day 7 of a streak before the Trail Marathon last weekend, but stupidly I just completely forgot to run on the day before the race because I was so wrapped up in the whole taping thing (couldn't resist the pun!).  I had to start over this week. I started on May 1, and I am now at Day 7 again.

This is not the first time I have done a running streak. In the past I have had several month long streaks, and my longest streak to date was 61 days back in early 2009. My intention right now is not to add myself to the list of multi-year streakers (although you know how runners love a ridiculous challenge...). People streak for all different reasons. Most often my reason for streaking is that I realize that my running needs a kick-start of consistency that I don't seem to be bringing to the table in my training. That is why I have started streaking now.

Consistency in training is the key to success in distance running, especially long distance running, such as marathon and beyond. To excel at running marathons requires adaptations that require years of consistent training. Both of my marathon PRs came after periods of 2-3 years of solid and steady training and build-up of mileage and endurance.

However, sometimes because of life stresses or injuries, my consistency falls apart. Once I lose that groove, regaining it can be a challenge. This has been especially hard for me since I have moved to Michigan, where the weather does not suit my personality. I hate the cold and love the sunshine, so being consistent when the weather is cold and dreary is a real challenge for me.

When I am feeling this way, a streak is just what I need to help me rebuild the running habit. It helps me renew my commitment and introduce the running back into my life in a way that is insistent but not overwhelming. I can easily tell  myself, "Come on. It is only one mile. Get the mile in and then you can quit if you want." The thing is that a lot of times I don't quit. I start to run, feel better, and do a workout on a day when it would have been so easy to blow it off.

Joining me on this streak is my friend Denise. She is streaking for a totally different reason. Denise is a fairly new runner (although she has been at it for over a year and a half now -- Go, Denise!!). She is not into the competitive end of things and is not interested in racing. She did reach a major goal of completing a half marathon a while back, something she never imagined she could do when she started. The problem was that after about a year of working toward that goal, she was suddenly goal-less.

While Denise is not competitive, she is a goal-driven person. She was really floundering in her running because she could not find a new goal that motivated her. When she heard about the streak, she was intrigued. That sounded like something that she could shoot for. The streak let her find new motivation and a new goal. She is shooting for 30 days (or 31 just to make the whole month of May). 

Not everyone is a fan of streaking. In case you didn't know, streaking is actually a controversial topic in the running community. In fact, so much so that on the USRSA site, they include an article that discusses this topic, titled "Caution: The Dangers of Streak Running,"  so that new runners can understand streaking a bit more fully and also the dangers of "trying to do too much too soon." If you are interested in starting a streak, that article is a must-read.

The article gives a lot of tips that are important to know if one is considering a streak. It addresses probably the most common objection/question: "Won't I get injured if I run every day?" (Not if you do it right!). The same principles apply when doing a running streak as doing other types of training, specifically the hard/easy principle and the ideas of taking rest days. Although I do run every day during a streak, some of those days are just a slow mile or so warm-up before my yoga or stretching. The author also makes a very important point about streaking: "Most importantly, never lose track of the ideal that your running streak should complement and enhance the rest of your life, not become the sole focus of your existence.  The goal is to improve the quality of your life."  

So, at least for now, I am a streaker. I will be posting my progress periodically on the Facebook page and in my Daily Mile log if you are interested in seeing how far I get.

What about you? Have you ever streaked or known a streaker? Does this sound interesting to you or totally crazy?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Product Review: Rock Tape -- It Rocks!!

(Before I begin, let me state that I am in no way connected to Rock Tape and am not being paid in any way for this review. I am just really happy with their product and how it performed for me in the marathon last weekend.)

Last weekend I ran a trail marathon with an IT band that was very iffy. I had been rehabilitating it since the 50k at Dances with Dirt GreenSwamp and had unsuccessfully tried to run the Martian Half Marathon two weekends earlier, having to stop at 5.75 miles. I had been getting some really good therapy from Dr. Tom, but did not feel hopeful that I would make a full 26 miles, especially on such a hilly and uneven course. I had decided to start the marathon anyway, because I did need a long run to prepare for the 50k at Gnaw Bone, and just to go as far as my knee would allow.

Luckily for me, I came across a Facebook posting by my friend Janet, who had just finished her first marathon with a strain in her groin. She reported that the Rock Tape got her through the marathon with no pain and that it worked better than the more well known KT Tape, which she had also tried. I also remembered that my son had once mentioned tape for working with injuries in his water polo players.

Since I had not had experience with this type of tape, I looked it up on their web site. They had a pretty nice video explanation of it that I am including here.

I was impressed with how thorough they were, even including videos of how to apply the tape correctly . When I saw that they had an application for IT band problems I was intrigued. I went right out to my local running store, Playmakers, to pick some up. I wasn't sure if it would work or not, but for $20 a roll it was worth a try. I was kind of disappointed that they didn't carry any of the cool colors I had seen on Amazon. The next order will definitely be for something a little more stylish, maybe purple, electric blue, or if I am feeling particularly wild, the pink flying skulls, or maybe the cool tattoo pattern:


I brought the tape home the night before the race, showered and shaved my legs, and then waited until I was completely dry to apply the tape. It did not mention shaving the area, but I figured that would help the tape stick. I wasn't sure which taping method I needed from their site, because besides the IT band issue, I was also having knee pain. I decided, just to be on the safe side, to do the taping for general knee pain to hold the knee stable and also to do the IT band. I watched the videos a few times, looked over the full-color directions in the box, and felt ready to apply the tape.
The tape is cloth, a lightweight stretchy fabric. You can't really tell how stretchy until you remove the paper backing.  Application of the tape is fairly easy with the video directions, but if you are uncoordinated like me, you just need to be careful not to let the tape stick to itself while you are putting it on.

The key to the tape working correctly is in the application. First of all, the video tells you to round the edges to keep them from fraying and to help them stick. This step is absolutely essential. Do it for every piece you apply, whether the video specifically says it or not. I did not do it on the cross piece I put below my knee, and that was the only spot where I had a problem with sticking. When it started to come up, I pulled the edge up, rounded it, and restuck it. It then stuck tightly until I pulled it off.

The second key step has to do with the stretching of the tape. The tape is meant to stretch in the middle but NOT at the end where you stick it down. If you stretch the ends of the tape, they will not adhere correctly. They emphasize this in the videos and the directions, but since most people are used to pulling on tape or band-aids as they are sticking them down, it is worth repeating. The stretch that you apply is as you stick down the middle of the tape. Once the ends of the tape are put in place, you rub over them briskly to create a little heat to help the tape stick.

After I was taped up, it felt surprisingly lightweight. I slept with it on the night before and could not really feel it except in one spot below the knee. I was glad I had taped the night before because this let me know I had taped it too tight on the crosspiece under my knee. I was able to lift that piece, loosen it a little, round the edge, and stick it back down. I was worried it might not restick, so I took the roll of tape with me. I didn't need it.  It stuck down just fine.

My knee, with my Rock Tape
Now, I am including a picture of my taped up leg here, but I do want to say that if anyone from Rock Tape would see it they would probably say it was total overkill. I ended up running two strips down my IT band, just to be sure, and then I also had the thing around my knee. It looks like it would be super uncomfortable, but let me tell you, I would not have worn all that tape for the four days I eventually had it on if it was even a little bit uncomfortable.

The big question for me was "Is this going to work?" As I started running, I was pleased and surprised to find that I really did not feel the tape. I was afraid I was going to spend the whole race wishing I hadn't put it on, but not able to take it off because I was wearing tights. That did not happen. After that first half mile of thinking "How is this going to be," I was able to forget about it entirely, and I did for those first few miles of the race.

By mile 5 I was starting to wonder how long I was going to be pain-free and whether the tape was going to work when my muscles got fatigued. By the aid station at 6.5 I was cautiously optimistic; by the one at 9.5 I was amazed to be still running and feeling good. Miles 11-13 had lots of downhill, and I figured that would be the real test. At a steep, rocky downhill around mile 12 I had twinges in my knee and thought "uh-oh, here it comes," but it never did. I kept waiting for the weakness that precedes the knee giving out, but it never came.

By the time I got back around to the aid station where my friend Paula was which would have been around 19.5 on the course, I was ecstatic. I was telling everyone "This Rock Tape Rocks!! I can't believe I have made it this far!" I could not believe I was still running at that point. As I crossed the finish line, way ahead of schedule, Jerry was equally surprised to see me still running. Neither one of us would have believed it was possible. I still don't think it would have been without the Rock Tape.
Just for the purposes of this review, I kept the tape on for three more days. I showed it to Dr. Tom when I went in to see him, and he said that the taping technique I had gotten from the site was a good one for supporting the knee. I took several steaming hot showers, just to see if the tape would stay on. It definitely did.

I would recommend this tape to anyone who is suffering with IT band or knee issues. It is not a solution to the problem. The solution is to continue working on strengthening the muscles so that they don't need the extra support, but in the meantime, the extra help from the tape is wonderful.
It is not just for IT band and knee issues. As I said, Janet used hers for a groin problem. They also have applications for many other common running-related problems in their brochure and on their site, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendon problems, and shin splints.

Also, in marathons and ultras, where there will be serious muscle fatigue, I think it would be a good preventative measure. I will probably keep taping for the  longer races, at least until I am positive that I have addressed those weaknesses in my glutes and hips that are causing my injury. The site also says that there are "performance enhancing" benefits to the tape in terms of increased blood flow to an area and improvements in form. I am not sure about performance enhancement, but I think the $20 for a box is worth the investment just for its possible injury prevention abilities in adding extra support when form breaks down late in a race.

In short, I would not  have believed that this product would work if I had not tried it myself, but I am now a convert. If you are struggling with an injury, especially one that is related to support, I really recommend that you give the tape a try.

Has anyone else tried it? I would love to hear your experiences.