Monday, April 18, 2016

Boston, Take 2: 2016

I don't really blog anymore, but this was an epic day for me so, I'm blogging tonight.  It probably won't happen again for another year or two.  :)

It has been a good running year..  After hitting the wall at mile 20 and passing out at the finish of the Newport News marathon in March 2015, I went on to set personal records in every distance, from the 5K to the 50 miler (to be fair, it was my only 50 miler.)   I had a strong finish last fall at the Chicago marathon, and decided to just train hard for this race with the goals of having a good time with running buddies, getting in some good workouts and shorter distance races, and staying injury free.  With all that in place, my goal for the day was to run my best Boston and finish without a complete crash and  burn in Newton and beyond.

Weather for race day was looking pretty bad a few days prior, predicting a high of 75 for a majority of the time I'd be on the course.  So although the temperatures we were given -- 72 at the start and gradually cooling as the race went on -- were not ideal, they were certainly better than what was originally forecast, and kind of similar to Chicago.  I decided to wear as little clothing as possible,  to go out no faster than marathon pace, not make the same mistakes I did last time I ran it.  (Note:  my 7:29 first mile in 2014 was not planned marathon pace.)

I also decided to run by myself.  In 2014 I ran with a friend and we were chatting most of the way.  I probably ran faster than I should have because I was distracted.  This time, I would run my own race.

Go time.  The first two minutes were so crowded I couldn't get under an 8:20 pace, but then the crowd thinned and I noticed my watch was at 7:30.... oops.  Then, all my GU fell out of my race belt.  All six packets.  I had to turn around and get them - and could only find 4 - and almost got trampled while profusely apologizing and feeling like a total loser, but I was pretty sure I couldn't get to mile 12, where they give out the first gels, without any fuel and still have a decent race.  I crossed the first mile in 7:48, including the GU snafoo.   I know the first 8 miles are pretty much all downhill, and I managed to keep a pretty solid 7:48-50 pace.  For the next 8 miles I tried to settle into marathon pace but take some advantage of the downhills.  I had a couple 7:30ish miles in there.  It was still very warm with no cloud cover, and I started the routine of drinking Gatorade at each aid station and dumping a cup of water on my head.

Then I hit Newton.  This is where I fell apart last time.  My pace had been too fast for the first 8 miles, and after the first hill my quads didn't work anymore.  I did the first of the four hills and it wasn't so bad.  The legs felt like they could keep going.  Hill two is the steepest, and I just kept chanting "Pickett Hill is steeper than you!  Pickett Hill is steeper than you!"  (Pickett Hill is a .34 mile beast with a 5-9% grade that I run least twice a week on my morning route.)  Hill three didn't feel bad at all.  And then there was Heartbreak.  It wasn't all that steep, it just seemed to go on forever (in reality, it was a half a mile.)  It was my slowest mile of the race at 8:27, but I knew I could still PR if I didn't fall apart in the last 5 miles.

I decided not to turn on my iPod, which was clipped on just in case, and instead to focus for those last miles on keeping pace.  I was starting to get a little tired,   I managed to keep mile 22 just under 8 minutes, but then I couldn't do sub-8s anymore.  And I was running straight downhill.  My legs actually felt pretty good, but I was low on energy.  Focus.  Focus.  Focus.  The crowds carried me though those last few miles that were feeling like eternity.  Finally I saw the finish line and looked at my watch.... If I managed to run a sub-8 pace for the last half a mile I could come in under 3:28... so I pushed it, and ran a little faster down Boylston St.  3:27:41.  PR.  At Boston.  I was stoked.

I wish I could say that my race story ended there, but things got a little scary later on.  I met up with my husband and friends and we headed to a restaurant for a celebration drink.  I just stared at my beer - it didn't look appetizing.  Nothing did.  I started to get those hyponatremia warning signs -- nausea, headache, dizziness... so I asked the waitress for some salt.  I drank a tablespoon of salt which usually helps in about ten minutes, but I was still feeling bad.  I walked to the bathroom and realized I was close to passing out.  My friends and husband walked me to the med tent, and on the quarter mile walk I started to lose feeling in my limbs and lips, and turned blueish.  By the time we got there I was shaking.  I've never felt that horrible after a race, and was terrified.  They did blood work, and  I had low blood sugar, low sodium, and dehydration.   I was there for 90 minutes, and after an IV and some time flat on my back, I started to feel better.  I was able to eat dinner a couple hours later and am back to feeling normal.

I'm thrilled about the PR, but the after situation scared the pants off me.  This is the third time I have ended up with an IV after an endurance race, and I have had three other similar situations where the onset came well after I'd left the race site.  Looking back, I actually felt fine when I finished the race.... and then I didn't eat.  For two hours, I didn't eat or drink anything.  I am so angry with myself - likely if I'd downed the recovery shake they handed me, I would have been fine.  Instead I ended up in a potentially life threatening situation, and halted the celebrations of my husband and friends who waited nervously outside the medical tent.  I guess every race comes with some lessons to be learned.

Other than that, though, couldn't have had a better weekend.  Boston knows how to put on a race -- I was congratulated by everyone in the entire city, including police, subway drivers, and passersby.  This city comes together for the marathon -- there is nothing like it.

Boston, Take 2: 2016

Bull Run Run 50 Mile - 2015 Report

I had wanted to do this race for three years now, but it just hasn't worked out.  In 2012, I ended up third on the wait list (in restrospect, I was in no mental or physical shape to run it that year, anyhow.)  In 2013, I got in, but fractured my hip 5 weeks before the race. Last year was my first Boston, so doing a 50 miler the week before didn't seem like a great plan.  This year the date worked, and I planned my race schedule around it, but I still wasn't entirely convinced I'd remain injury free until, well, Friday.  :)
In the weeks leading up to the race, I had nightmares about the last 20 or so miles.  It's a tough course with about 25 short but steep climbs, and anything over 31 miles was a big unknown to me.  I had done a 50K put on by the same running club on the southern part of the course (definitely the more challenging end) in December 2012, but other than that, marathons had been my longest distance.  I also have had some somewhat concerning health issues at endurance events, including collapsing at the finish of my last marathon a month ago.  I have since found a GP who is an ultrarunner, and we discussed this race and my nutrition plan in detail.  
Also, I was feeling a little unprepared.  The night before, I got some texts from my friend who did the JFK 50 last November.  How many pairs of shoes was I bringing?  What about socks?  Who was my crew?  Was anyone pacing me for the last 10 miles?  Whaaaaa??????  Um, I was bringing one pair of shoes.  One pair of socks.  I had no crew.  And pacers weren't allowed on this single track trail.  I actually wasn't bringing anything except my fuel belt, a change of clothes for after the race, a bottle of shampoo, and a hairbrush.  
I carpooled with a guy from DC Road Runners -- an experienced 50 miler -- and he assured me I had brought everything I needed.  Phew.  We arrived at packet pickup at 5:10 a.m.  Just like the 50K, which started from the same location, I was immediately taken with the vibe of the crowd.  Such a friendly bunch of people.  I made myself a peanut butter bagel and chatted away with, well, everyone around me. My former boss, Tim, who inspired me to do this race about 5 years ago (I think he has run it 21 times!) showed up around this time.  We wished eachother well.... and it was time to head to the start.
The start of the race is a loop around the paved road at Hemlock Regional Park -- the only paved section of the course.  The goal is to spread out the runners before they head onto the the single track trail for the remaining 49 miles.  I knew I had a bad habit of starting entirely too fast, and also knew the first 16 miles are the most runnable, and so, with no time goal other than to finish under the cutoff and not crash and burn, I practiced my "snail pace" from the start.  I was also forced to stop and walk/ simply pause at some of the tricky parts, as there was a huge backup.  
Tim caught up to me when we got to to those tricky bits -- he is an amazing trail runner.  I was scared to death of falling, but he ran though the steep and rocky sections like it was second nature.  It was nice to catch up with him, and he gave me some good advice for the rest of the race.  Stay steady on the runnable parts.  Plan what you need in advance from the aid stations, and don't waste any time there.  And... it's all mental.  You can do this.
Around mile 5, we hit a rocky section, and I saw a small crowd of people gathered around a woman who had fallen. She looked like she was in pretty bad shape, and they were waiting for medics.  It's always hard to know what to do in those situations -- stop and help?  Keep going?  I asked if they needed anything, and they didn't... so I kept going.  How awful to fall in the first few miles.  (Note:  she was okay, I found out at the finish - she had done something to her arm.)
At mile 7 we hit the first aid station.  I grabbed some of my favorite treats -- some cookies, some jelly beans, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I filled my bottles with Gatorade and headed to the out and back - the only long flat section of the course.  I ran conservatively so I could eat my food without cramping - I know how important it is to eat early on - and I didn't want to trash my legs with more miles left than I'd ever run in my life.  As it was an out and back, I could see the leaders coming in... they were looking strong, and even had smiles on their faces as they ran by.  We got to hit up the aid station again four miles later, and I noticed that the food was looking less appetizing.  I asked for a salt pill, and kept on going.
The next few miles I ran with a guy from upstate NY -- it was great to chat with someone, and it made those miles fly by.  You have to climb a small mountain to get back to the start area -- I remembered this from the 50K, and we would again climb it at the finish, at mile 49.5.  I got to the Hemlock aid station and got a little confused on where to head from there.  I grabbed some food and headed back to the course, but had lost my NY friend.  Soon, though, I fell into stride with a woman from Philly, who I ran with for a few miles.  She was a veteran Bull Run Runner, and had to turn around in order to be on the road by noon to get home for her son's senior prom.  I was amazed she came all the way down to run only half the race, but was beginning to see how special this race was to so many people who keep coming back again, year after year.  After she and I parted, I was all alone.  I could hear gunfire up ahead, and knew that meant we must be coming close to Bull Run Regional Park, where there is a firing range.  Sure enough, I was soon at the Marina.   They had a great spread of food, but nothing looked very good.  I got some salt pills, a cup of cola, and tried to make myself eat a PB&J, however, I wasn't able to swallow it.  My mouth was pretty dry.  I ended up spitting it out about a quarter mile later.
Since I'd run the 50K on the south end of this course a few years ago, this part of the course was familiar, and I knew was was coming up.  Up, down, up, down, and more up, down.  Relentless hills.  My quads were starting to hurt already.  I'd been walking the ups but running the downs.  The downs were really beginning to bother me.  I was starting to get a little discouraged as I ran into the next aid station, but then I saw the sign - MILE 26.1! - and I knew that meant I was over halfway done.  Never mind the fact that I had 24 miles left.  Never mind that my cumulative time was 5:20 -- almost two hours longer than my last marathon.  I could do this.  I could finish.  I turned around, and there was Tim again.  It was nice to have some company for the next couple miles, but then I lost sight of him at the next aid station - Fountainhead.  The volunteers were great and told me to "Enjoy the Do Loop."  This would be the fourth time I've run the Do Loop -- I'd done it at the Women's Trail Half Marathon, the 50K, and earlier this year on a training run -- and it's killer.  Massive hills.  Beautiful views of the Occoquan Reservoir.  On the way in, you catch people heading out, who are a good hour or so ahead of you.  These were the same people I'd seen on the out and back at the beginning, all with smiles on their faces.  Now, they all looked exhausted.
I ran the Do Loop by myself -- there was a guy a ways behind me keeping a steady pace, but other than that, it was just me and the trail.  I hit the Do Loop Aid Station, and knew it was only 2.5 miles to get back to Fountainhead.  Those miles took For Freaking Ever.  FOREVER.  How could 2.5 miles take so long?  And then I still would have ten miles to go.  TEN MILES!  Never mind that I would be 3/4 of the way done.  The hills were killing me.  I could not stomach food.  I heard two guys behind me talking.  One said "When I get to the next aid station, I'm finished."  The other guy said "You have it in the bag!  You are 2.5 hours ahead of the cutoff.  You can walk the rest of the race and still finish."
When we got to Fountainhead, my good friend Ami was there waiting.  I tried to smile - I was so grateful to see her!  She did her first 50 in the fall, and she knows how bad you feel at this point in the race.  She had brought me trail mix, socks, and a new t-shirt.  I felt horrible turning them all down, but my socks and shirt were working for me, and a couldn't even fathom putting anything solid in my body at this point.  I thanked her, drank some Coke, tried to eat something solid (I might have managed a strawberry), and continued.  That guy I mentioned above?  He dropped.  As bad as I felt, I don't know how you could drop when you'd accomplished so much.
That other guy, the one who tried to convince him to stay in the race,  passed me as I was relieving myself behind a tree.  I noticed that my urine was the color of copper.  I was a little concerned, and then remembered how my mouth was so dry I had to spit out my sandwich.  I had been good about my salt intake, but maybe not drinking as well as I should have.  I caught up to him and asked him what he though (hey, long distance runners can talk about their pee.  It's okay.)  He was great -- this is someone who had run the race 12 times, done multiple 100 milers, and he figured I was dehydrated and told me to drink all my water in between aid stations.  I realized I'd been drinking a cup or two at each station, but not much in between.   For the next five miles, we chatted on the flat sections, he'd fly ahead on the descents (which I could no longer actually run due to quad pain), and I'd catch up on the uphills (as long as they weren't straight up, I could still run them.)  He confessed that he had not run at all since Marine Corps Marathon.  I figured he meant he hadn't run much.  Nope.  He hadn't run at all.  Not a step.  HOW DO YOU GO OUT AND RUN A 50 MILE TRAIL RACE ON ABSOLUTELY NO TRAINING?  He says it's all muscle memory, and mental.  He knows he can do it.  Apparently he can.
At the final aid station, I see my next door neighbor, who is volunteering.  He tell me I've only got five more miles to go!  I tell him that every mile is now taking freaking forever.  My new friend (the one who can run 50 miles without any training) reminds me that we've got a lot of flat parts coming up.  That's it.  I'm finishing, and I'm running as fast as I can.
Which isn't all that fast.  I'm actually really excited when my GPS registers a 12 minute pace for some of the miles.  We reach the river bed, and those ridiculous rocky sections which my new friend is really good at and I am not.  He runs over them like they are no big thing, and I'm holding on for dear life.  So I lose him.  But I know I'm close, really close.  I remember from the 50K that I pass two mile markers, and then I reach that ridiculous mountainous climb, and then it's about a half a mile on a flat field to the finish.  So I run.  I pass a group of guys, and they tell me that mountain is just up ahead.  I run, and then I have to walk up, up, up. but then I run... and I see the finish.  And I smile.  I cross.  I am done.  I just ran 50 miles.
The finish line is incredible.  A feeling I haven't ever felt at a road race.  Such support for the runners coming in.  One of the most touching moments of the day happened after I'd met up with my family, showered, and was enjoying the amazing finish line food.  A runner, aged 71, who had finished this race 22 previous times, neared the finish line.  Everyone cheered for him by name.  He crossed with such determination and joy in his eyes.  He wasn't the only 71 year old runner, either.
I think I'll run Boston next year, and pretty sure I can't do them both within a week of each other, but I want to do this one again.  Hats off to VHTRC for putting on such a great event.