Sunday, February 28, 2010

Xterra Thrill In The Hills Half Marathon

The Xterra Georgia series Thrill In The Hills half marathon was a hugely anticipated event for me. After years of dreaming of doing a marathon I decided it was best to throw out that idea for this year and do a half marathon. I had my eye on this half marathon ever since I started trail running. It was close enough to Atlanta that I could stay with family, not too far from NC, and most importantly not during the warmer months which lots of the other trail half marathons seem to be in.

The week leading up to the race was one of the longest weeks of my life. So many emotions and thoughts running through my head all week. Sometimes I felt that I was so prepared and had nothing to worry about and other times I questioned if I had done the right training. At times I worried if I would even enjoy myself and other times I knew it would be the thrill of a life time. I constantly worked my strategy all week. When to leave my Aunt's house, what to eat in the morning, what to wear, and how to run the race were constant thoughts all week. The biggest concern was my race strategy. Not having done this distance I decided on taking it easy for at least the first 5 miles then decide when to kick it into a higher gear.

The morning of the race I left my Aunt's house at the perfect time. I drove calmly to Fort Yargo State Park, again going over race strategy in my head. I arrived at the park, parked the car, headed to the bathrooms, then checked in. After picking up my packet I went back to the car to check out my bag of goodies. The usual suspects were found; a short sleeve technical race tee made partially from recycled polyester, some GU, and a ton of post cards for businesses and various race series. After another trip to the bathroom I went back to the car and got all my gear ready. I made one last final decision to get back in line for the bathroom, third time's a charm! Perfect timing, ten minutes to spare until race start. The only thing I didn't do and really regret now is that I didn't do any IT band stretches, what the hell was I thinking?

At the start I still debated what my race strategy was. I decided just to run by feel and make decisions as I go along. About 450 people crammed in behind the start, mostly half marathoners and about 80 full marathoners. The gun went off and we headed out for a trip around the parking lot. On the far side we passed the finish and packet pick up area where they were playing music. The song coming through the speakers was "Welcome to the Jungle" and I cringed. I thought if this song gets stuck in my head for the next 13 miles there will be hell to pay! We made it to the trail head and we all came to a walk, as usual for large trail races. Once running again, I kept an easy pace, enjoying being able to listen to other people's conversations.

I kept my pace fairly easy. The first mile was around 11:30 and after that I kept it around 10:30. I broke the race down into 3 mile sections to start. At each water station I took a short walk break to pull out my water and take a few sips. Every two miles I assessed my clothing situation. Every time I'd get in the sun for more than a minute I'd decide that I'd take my top shirt off at the next walk break. Then I'd get back in the woods and decide that wasn't going to be necessary. I had some short conversations with other people on the trails. I slowly passed people here and there but was keeping it around my 10:30 pace.

Halfway through I was feeling great and decided after mile 8 or 9 I would up my pace a bit and finish at more of a race pace. I passed the mile 8 marker and was excited that I well on my way to finishing my first half marathon. The elation didn't last long as I felt a pang on the side of my left knee. I tried to pretend I didn't feel it. A few more strides and another one. "NO! This is not happening!" I tried to convince myself it wasn't my IT band, it had to be something else, just had to be. I made my way to the first big power line hill and after making it a quarter of the way up I decided I needed to walk it due to the pain on the side of my knee. Walking didn't hurt, so I walked up as briskly as I could. After the ground leveled I ran again. Before hitting mile 9 I stopped and stretched. I decided on a plan of walking the hills and stretching when needed. I implemented that plan and tried picking an easy pace. After passing a few people I realized that the slow running was hurting more than a faster pace. So new plan, walk the hills, run as fast as I could in between, and stretch if needed.

The last five miles were so disappointing. Walk the hill, let everyone pass, then sprint, passing all the people that just passed you, rinse and repeat for the rest of the race. In the last mile it started to hurt even on the down hill. I stopped to stretch at least twice in the last mile. I think I stopped to stretch a total of 5 times in the last 5 miles. I didn't look at my time on my watch until I saw the mile 11 marker. I was shocked to see that I could possibly make it in under 2:15, holy cow I'm shocked. I had told myself I'd be happy with anything under 2:30 and had a super secret goal of 2:15. I was going to make my super secret goal in spite of all the problems in the last 5 miles.

When I saw the finish I was thrilled. I hadn't looked at my watch since mile 11 and wasn't sure how much impact the hill walking and stretching had made on my time. I saw my dad and his wife, Linda, cheering for me at the finish. I waved to them wildly like a total goober and gave Linda a high 5. I hit the stop on my Garmin as I passed over the timing mat without looking at the time. I collected my medal and turned in my timing chip. I found a spot to stretch and looked at my watch, 2:14:31! I can't believe I did that with all my troubles with my IT band.

After the race my dad, Linda, and I headed to Athens to have brunch at The Grit, the best vegetarian restaurant ever. To my surprise and delight dad and Linda loved their meals. I indulged in a cup of their tofu cubes, which to me are absolutely heaven, and had the Boarder Patrol (pinto beans on a flour tortilla with eggs, salsa, and sour cream). What a great meal to have after a race, quite the treat for me.

Driving home I had a lot to think about. I know I could have finished faster had it not been for the IT band. I marched up the hills at a walk passing others who were walking due to fatigue, not pain, and that made me feel great. I had lots left in my tank and knew I had put in the right training. I thought about my training log and and realized that I did a lot of treadmill and road miles the past three weeks due to weather and illness. I really think the inability to run trails leading up to the race took it's toll on my IT band. Maybe not doing my stretches before the race was a bad idea too. Even though I'm thrilled I'm also very disappointed that my IT band had to flare up. Couldn't it have at least waited until later, maybe mile 10? I figure I added at least 5 minutes to my time with the walking and stretching. I decided on taking a week off, or as long as needed for my IT band to stop hurting. I'm going to trying some inserts that the Dr gave me last year and see if they help. If they do I might see about getting custom orthotics. I've done all I can to try to manage this without resulting to orthotics so it's time to give them a whirl. I'll cut my mileage back and not think about another half again until the fall, assuming I can recover from this fast. I see lots of swimming for me in the upcoming weeks.

Race stats:
Official time 2:14:44
10:17 minute mile average
Age Group 35-39: 9/27
Overall: 222/390

Stretching after the race.

I forgot to speak of the actual trail. The trails were fairly easy compared to what I train on. The single track was wide and it wasn't constant up and down small steep hills like the US National White Water Center in Charlotte. The conditions were fairly dry, the dryest trail run I've had in months.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

HardCORE Serious Trail Runner 8k

Friday I made a last minute decision to run the 1st annual HardCORE Serious Trail Runner 8k at the US National White Water Center. I had known about this race for a while but was having a difficult time deciding whether to run it or not due to the fact that it is on the Saturday before my first half marathon.

I came down with another cold last week, second one in two months. I was unable to get in my last planned long run last Sunday and had been trying to find time to squeeze in an 8-10 mile run by this Saturday. I played the week by ear. When I woke up each day I assessed my physical conditions and planned my run according to how well, or not well, I felt. That meant that I never ran more than 4.5 miles this past week. What should have been 13-14 on Sunday was 4.5 and all the rest were around 3. I still kept up the hope that I would wake up one day and feel ready for a longer run. Alas, that day didn't come. My friend Maggie sent me a message on Friday asking if I was racing Saturday. I decided I may as well go and have fun since I wasn't going to do a longer run after all. Later that day Kay also sent me a message as well about the race. All signs pointed to this race being a good thing for me.

Soon after arriving at the WWC, Maggie found me at the registration table looking confused and out of sorts. I didn't seem to have all my lights on yet. It was too cold and my head was splitting from sinus pressure, sadly something I'm getting used to living with lately. We chatted and seemed to need to go back and forth to our cars a lot as we remembered to grab stuff or drop off clothing no longer needed as it warmed up. Kay showed up a little bit later and introductions were made. There were lots of other people there that I know, most of them moms I know from my neck of the woods. There's always something inspiring to me about fellow mom runners, no matter what their ability or experience.

Maggie and I lined up at the back of the pack for the start of the race. My plan was to stick with Maggie if I could. She told me to feel free to run my own race if her pace turned out to be too slow for my easy pace. The race started and we trotted off at an easy pace. By the end of the first quarter mile we were dead last, a place I've never been in before. We chatted and enjoyed some socializing. Upon spotting the first photographer I hammed it up real good with some jazz hands. At the first hill we actually passed someone! She stayed right behind us for that first mile. I finally told Maggie I was moving on at the end of the first mile, even at my easy pace I was slowly leaving her behind.

After leaving Maggie I picked a comfortably hard pace and started picking my way past other runners. It's amazing how much easier it is to pass on trails when the runner you are passing is significantly slower. I kept reminding myself not to go too hard since I didn't need to get hurt before my half marathon in a week. The trails they picked were fairly moderate except for two large hills. I came upon the first big hill that never seemed to end and looked up to see 90% of the runners walking up it. I made the decision right then to do my best to make it to the top without walking. At the top I was relieved to find we had a nice quick downhill for a minute, everyone knows I'm all about the downhill on trails. The descent ended when the trailed opened up on a power line that went straight up. Great, another killer hill, not as long as the last one but much more steep. Again 90% of the runners were walking. And again I vowed to make it to the top without walking. After reaching the top I realized there was only about a mile left and I was still feeling good.

In the last mile I kept passing people. It felt good to have the legs to even pass on the hills, a rare feat for me. The races at the White Water Center always end with a short steep hill less than 0.1 miles from the finish. I passed several people coming up that hill and then kicked it up a notch for the finish, passing at least two more runners. I finished with a time of 52:53. That's an average of 10:39 a mile. Not too bad since my first mile was more than a 12:00 mile. According to my Garmin the rest of my miles were all under 10:00 except for the mile that had the big hill and that was a 10:21 mile.

This race made me realize that even without that last long run I am ready for the half marathon. The hills really sealed the deal for giving me the confidence I need for next week. I've been so stressed about missing that last long run, but I am stressed no more!

The race was well run and the shirt was a nice long sleeve technical shirt, my first technical shirt score from a race! They had one water stop that could be accessed at the top of both hills. There were plenty of volunteers on the course to point us in the right direction. I also spotted at least two photographers, the one girl kept getting lucky enough for me to do my jazz hands for her.

After all the awards were over and the crowd started to thin I stayed and chatted with Kay. She mentioned to me something I had already been thinking about on my own. She said she noticed my log entries are starting to get slower. I told her I had noticed it too. We had a good conversation about me needing to get back on track with the speed. She's like me, not the fastest ever but fast enough to place in our age groups. She also finds more joy in going fast than just logging long slow miles, just like me. It's amazing how we are on the same page with what we enjoy about running and what we were both thinking about what I needed to start focusing on. Now that I've got my mileage up and have proven I can keep my IT band under control it's time to get some speed back in the equation after I recover from my half marathon. I got so wrapped up in building miles that I started doing too much easy running and my runs have little by little been getting slower. So, my plan is to hold steady at my current weekly mileage and start adding some speed again. I'm excited to see what I can do this spring!

Now I must mention the Sunshine Award.
My newest running buddy,Laura of , gave me a Sunshine award the other day on her blog. I am honored that she gave me this award because I am always inspired by her as a mom and runner. She amazes me with what she is doing to raise money for the Joubert Foundation. To work part time, take care of a child with special needs, train for a 10k, and set up Jog for Joubert to raise money and awareness is more than I could imagine having the energy for. She inspires me that I can do all the things that I need and want to do. So I send her back the same award she has bestowed upon me.

Be sure to check out Laura's blog because she has a great basket of running goodies that she is raffling off to raise money for the Joubert Foundation. Check it out!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The 16 Mile Loop Has Been Conquered (sort of)

After two weeks of not being able to run trails due to bad weather and illness making it's way through the house I got back on the trail Sunday. I had a 14 mile long run planned and decided to do it at my favorite place, Kings Mountain State Park. The main trail there is a 16 mile loop. So far all I've done is out and backs since I haven't been doing enough mileage to complete the loop. I figured with 14 miles to do it would be a great chance to finally do the whole loop. I figured I'd walk the first and the last miles and with 14 of running in between.

The temperature started out around 35 and slowly moved up to 40. A last minute wardrobe change after arriving at the park turned out to be perfect! (this is a rare feat to pick the perfect running attire for a long run) We have had several weeks of wet weather so I knew the trails would be wet but I wasn't really prepared for what was ahead of me.

I brought my Argus Bean camera, an xmas gift from my dad, along to take some pictures of my favorite spots on the trail. This camera is ultra light weight, only a few ounces and is water resistant. It is designed to be able to clip onto your gear easily as well. It's only 5 megapixels but for convenience during trail running it's perfect. This was my first run bringing it along. I attached it to the loop on the back of my fuel belt and hoped the camera bouncing on my tush wouldn't annoy me too much.

The first 5 miles were uneventful. I enjoyed the trail thoroughly. I stopped a few times for some snap shots of the trail. I reminded myself from time to time not to be over exuberant because I had a long way to go. I carried out my plan to stop my watch at mile 5 and walk so I could do any gear/clothing adjustments and refuel. After removing my gloves I decided to test my trail potty using skills. I gave myself an A+ on this test. I judged these skills on these points: not peeing on myself, not coming in contact with any poisonous plant life, no animals/insects attacking me, and not being seen by others that might be out on the trail. Once I was all put back together I refueled with a fig newman bar and some water. I then restarted my watch and took off at an easy pace.

Around mile 6 I started to come across more mud and boggy areas. My toes got a tiny bit wet every now and then but no big deal. I was having fun and that's all that counts. At this point I'm still reminding myself to keep it easy because there are many more miles to come. At exactly mile seven I encounter a stream that is too wide to jump over. I look both up and down the stream hoping there might be a narrower spot but there is none. So I go for it and just run through the cold stream. This point marks the down turn of trail conditions. From here on out it's mostly muddy, lots of boggy ground, and many more stream crossings. At one point the stream crossing was so wide I wasn't even sure I was in the right place. Looking back I now wish I had taken a picture but at the time all I could think of was the safest way across. My feet and ankles were starting to tire from all the slipping and my legs felt like they were loaded down by bricks but I was still having fun.

The fun started to end between miles 9 and 10. Being so unfamiliar with the trail made me wonder if I was still on the right trail, dog help me if I had wondered onto the longer equestrian trails! My legs weren't getting any fresher either. Around mile 10.5 the area started to become familiar! Sweet sandal wearing wiener dog, I've made it! (sort of) Being back on familiar trail put my mind at ease but did little for my mud heavy legs. Another good thing was the trail was significantly less muddy. I knew I'd be coming upon the road the leads back to the parking lot soon. I decided if I was at 12 miles by then I'd take a left, cutting the loop short by 3 miles, and head back and hope it was a mile so I could get as close to 13 miles in as possible. Sadly I was not as far along as I wanted.

I was feeling a bit better and thought I might just be able to make the full 14 miles. I knew that around mile 12 the trail would be mostly downhill or level, good news for heavy legs. Just as I thought, mile 12 started a renewed energy with being able to coast downhill a lot. Sadly at mile 13 the side of my left knee felt a twinge of pain. I was not happy! I had no problems with my left hip during this run, hadn't even thought about it. Why on earth was my IT Band doing this to me now? I was on a roll! I stopped and stretched it. I managed .25 miles before I felt it again. Stopped stretched and continued. Ugh, .25 later and I felt it again so I gave in and walked.

I hadn't planned on having to walk 1.5 miles back to the trail head, just 1 miles. Something about that extra half mile that made it seem more daunting. I pulled my headband over my ears and put my gloves back on. After 5 minutes I was getting very cold. I stretched my IT Band again and ran for a few minutes to get warm. Then I walked up the massive .45 mile hill as my legs screamed at me to sit and rest. Had it been warmer I would have stopped and done lots of stretching halfway up but it was too cold for that. I made it up the hill and started to run again to get warm and speed things up. I was so happy to finally see the visitor center through the trees!

I checked back in at the desk and beelined it to my car. Once at my car I sat down on the bumper and peeled off my wet shoes and socks. I had brought clean shoes to put on but no dry socks or towel. I made a mental note to be sure to bring them next time. My feet were covered in mud and look like prunes but the clean dry shoes were the bomb even without socks. My heated car seats were just the ticket and I blasted the heat. On my way home I thought over my run. I decided for next week to do the Ridgeline trail because I'm positive it won't be so wet. I've also decided not to do the full 16 mile loop again until we've had a good dry spell, only out and backs on there until then.

Today I'm sore in places I've not been sore in for a long time. Mentally I feel good about it. The run had it's highs and very lows and I survived. Now onto next Sunday's long run, the last one before the Xterra Thrill in the Hills Half Marathon! I'd like for this last long run to be less taxing. I'm going to try walking a minute at the end of each 2 mile segment and I'm going to refuel with food at mile 5 and 9. Here's to things looking up for next Sunday!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Ugly Truth About Motherhood

There is a part of motherhood rarely spoken of. This is the part that you feel ashamed to admit, that is taboo to say to others. The feeling of resentment and anger towards your little one that surfaces from time to time. I don't know how often other moms feel it but for me right now it's several times a day.

Please don't get me wrong, I love my son with all my heart and can't imagine not having him. He wasn't an accident, we made the choice to create him. Even knowing how difficult he can be I'd still go back and do it all over because he is an amazing little guy and melts my heart from time to time. Even with all the frustration he adds to my life I look forward to seeing him in the morning and when I pick him up from school.

Right now I feel trapped and frustrated. I feel like my life is being held hostage by my precious child. He has never been easy. He was a high maintenance baby and has turned into a high maintenance toddler. An example of one of our biggest problems revolves around sleeping. He sleeps great through the night and he's a difficult napper, but the nap is the least of my worries. It's the waking up part that is the biggest source of drama during our day. 90% of the time when he wakes he is in a foul mood, usually crying. Today after a 2 hour nap he woke up and immediately started crying. He spent the next 20 minutes crying non-stop and throwing himself on the floor. For the following 45 minutes he was just a pill. Many days as soon as he wakes up in the morning I'm already counting down the hours until it's time to put him to bed.

I could make a list a mile long on the things that make me want to lock my little man up in his room until he's a few year older, but I won't do that. I'm sure there are kids worse than he is but I also know there are plenty of kids that are easier. If all kids were as high maintenance as my son the world's population would be a lot smaller. So, I know he's not typical and we have a special one. I keep telling myself that when he's older this will all translate to a really special person with lots of talent. But for now I want to run away and hide. I miss my freedom. I long for the days when I only had to figure out what to do with the dogs when we wanted to do something. I long to make and eat dinner without crying involved. I know we'll have those days again but right now it seems a lifetime away.

I wish more people were honest about the true frustrations of parenthood, especially motherhood. We knew parenthood wasn't going to be easy but nobody prepared me for these feelings of frustration, resentment, anger, and despair. If I hear someone tell me to cherish this time and these moments one more time I will lose my mind. When a mom talks of frustration it doesn't help to say these things to her. All I ask is for others to please acknowledge that these feelings are valid and normal. Nobody wants to feel guilty because they aren't feeling all warm and fuzzy about their child 100% of the time. I feel it's an awesome day if I get the warm fuzzies about Emmett 50% of the day. That is reality and it doesn't need to be a taboo.

Not everyone gives me the guilty feelings. I have several friends, some of them my running partners, that understand my myriad of feelings that I have towards my son. They make me feel more normal. But, in general, our society doesn't want people to talk about the dirty truth, that moms can and will resent their children at some point. It doesn't make us bad mothers it just makes us real humans.

So for now could someone please just knock me out and wake me up when he's ready to go to kindergarten?