Yesterday I paced the Colorado Springs Half Marathon and today I paced the Denver Hot Chocolate 15k. When pacing, you get all sorts of random running questions, but inevitably get two comments/questions pretty consistently:
1. "How do you DO this? I could never run an even pace or know what finishing time I'll hit!"
2. "How do you train for something like this?"
My answers are always:
1. "Lots of practice. I've put in TONS of miles, and I'm naturally a pretty even runner!"
2. "I don't train. I've just run enough that my body knows what to do." (For the record, if the person asking the question is actually looking for advise/help with training for their next endeavor, I then elaborate on how I got to where I am today and provide insight for them...)
Both of these responses seem to blow people's minds (though anyone who has run as much or more than I have will know exactly what I mean by these answers)...and that's partially why I respond that way (as a pacer I try to make people smile/laugh/think/whatever to distract them from their own running/pain so that they can keep moving and be successful, so If my silly antics can get them "out of their head," I consider it a success). And my response to the first question is the honest truth, not sugar-coated or modest - I HAVE put in the miles, and have always run quite even splits during races...it's just a skill that I was blessed with. They may not be fast splits, but they're even! But the second statement...
Well, it's not false when it comes to the "standard" definition of training to which most runners subscribe. But it's also, by no means, meant to imply that I spend most days sitting on my bum...or that I've just "magically" learned to run faster this year. I work my bum off in a way that isn't often discussed in running forums (though quite a few runners train in this manner as well).
What does this mean? Well. Last year I stuck to a typical running plan. It nearly killed my love for running, and definitely dampened my spirits overall. It wasn't worth it. Not even a little. So I re-assessed and decided to take a different approach this year - FUN when running - getting back to the reason I stared running (to get outside, be fit/healthy, and have fun with friends) and to get back into the gym (where I have a fabulous community of AMAZING athletes who support my crazy running habit and accept me and my wimpy little T-Rex arms).
I went into this year with precisely one set running goal - to run a sub-27 minute 5k. There were, of course, a few others floating around my head, but I refused to set a timeline for any of them as I'd learned that timelines created undue pressure for me. I decided that those goals would happen whenever they did. Instead of setting additional running goals, I incorporated my one running goal into my goals for the gym. Ironically, I've only crossed off that one goals to date:
As I was thinking through all of this after giving my standard response to those "top two questions" during the race this morning, I realized that I rarely actually explain what I *really* do to train...you know, my "magic trick" that has made me a faster and stronger runner this year than ever before. (And I realized I was past due for a new blog post, so combine the two, and here we are!) So...
Simply put, I HIT THE GYM!!!
I'm a CrossFitter. Yep, one of those nut-job meatheads who just throw around heavy weights, do crazy things in the gym, and always get hurt! (That totally describes me, right?) HA! I really am a CrossFitter, but the bad wrap that we get is not actually the truth about CrossFit. If you belong to the right gym (like mine), the coaches focus on form over weight and respect your needs/wants/goals on an individual basis, while still pushing you to stretch your limits. I go to Lowry CrossFit, and we have a fantastic balance of meatheads (don't get me wrong, these are some of the nicest folks ever...they're just crazy strong too), endurance athletes, and average Joes. And, believe it or not, CrossFit actually compliments running quite nicely (I just dial back the weight during the week leading up to races). My goal between races is to get into the gym at least 3 times a week. If possible, I get there early or stay late to put in some extra work. In June this meant getting there early and doing Annie before the regular class. During August I chose to add in extra work on the Olympic lifts before/after classes.
Annie is a workout where you do double-unders (a jump rope skill in which you get the rope under your feet two times during each jump - it's PHENOMENAL speed/sprint work) and sit-ups (the full thing, not a crunch - a strong core is key for strong running) - first you do 50 double-unders, then 50 sit-ups, then 40 double-unders, then 40 sit-ups, 30 of each, 20 of each, and finish with 10 of each - all for time! When I did Annie in March of this year it took me nearly 11 minutes to complete the full thing. So while this wasn't one of my set goals for the gym, I decided that in June I would do Annie at lest 8 times. Some days this was awful, and others it was very rewarding...and I managed to shave nearly 4 full minutes off of my time, capping off the Month of June by recording a time of 6:48!!!
Olympic lifts are tricky buggers, and I've always had a "hitch" (in laymen's terms, it's really just a pause in the middle of a move) in both my clean and my snatch...and that's not something you want stuck in the middle of a lift that's meant to be efficient and use momentum to help lift heavy weights off the ground and to your shoulders/over your head. So I decided to go back to basics and focus on light weight and form. I spent about an hour in the gym before or after each regular class working on these lifts (and the jerk also as it's normally paired with the clean, and since the clean & jerk *is* one of my goals for 2017). I started light. I got rid of the hitch. And now I'm back to lifting as much (or more) as I did before (with more ease), and I'm actually looking forward to starting to add weight and see what I can really do!
In addition to these two focuses, and as I mentioned in both explanations above, while doing this work, I was also participating in "normal classes." These aren't easy, and normally consist of a warm up, a strength/skill portion, and then a WOD (workout of the day). Here are a few examples:
Most people respond with, "wow, I could NEVER do that!" And that's false. They could. Anyone can do this...if you're physically unable to do a move, there are modifications, and you just move at whatever pace is most appropriate for you! Plus, as you can see, a lot of these are quite cardio-based, so even though I'm in the gym, hanging from bars, flopping on the floor, and throwing around weights, I'm getting in GREAT speed work (without the pounding of hitting the pavement/track)!
And I *do* run still. But I keep it light-hearted and have fun with it. I restrict most of my running to the weekends (with an occasional Taco Tuesday run club or short yog with the dog) and/or limit it to races (which I rarely actually "race," and mostly just do for fun and to spend time with friends). I also hike mountains/hills...and then run down (works the heart and lungs going up even though you're not running, and focuses on turnover speed, including airplane noises on any sharp turns, on the way down). And, most importantly, I find ways to cherish the time spent running...
So where has this all taken me thus far in 2017?
1. I'm far happier as a person/runner/CrossFitter/friend/dog mom/sister/daughter/aunt/you-name-it than I was at this time last year!
2. I blew that sub-27 5k goal out of the water (managed to get sub-25)!
3. I PR'ed my marathon time, shaving over 23 minutes of of my previous time. (This was one of those unspoken goals - I wanted a sub-5 hour full, and I unintentionally ran a 4:50:00!)
4. I've been blessed to accompany friends through epic journeys - Badwater 135, first marathons, first 50 milers, and setting PR's to name a few.
5. I've set new maximums for a number of lifts in the gym - push press, clean and jerk, snatch - and am well on my way to setting more very soon.
6. And I OWNED my biggest unspoken goal last weekend - I FINALLY broke the 2 hour mark on a half marathon, running a 1:59:41 despite extreme heat/humidity and a potty stop!
I attribute #6 (another unspoken goal) to all of my work in the gym, the heat training I did before Badwater, my main man Jackson (my IR4 buddy who inspires and pushes me every day), and to the fun times I've had this year that have made me stronger and happier!!
So whether you stick to a traditional training plan...or you want to mix it up...don't be afraid to try new things, and remember that putting in the work will always (eventually) pay off!!!
I often get asked why I run so many miles, so many races. Every runner has their reasons, but I think mine are pretty simple - as an excuse to spend long periods of time playing outdoors, for Jackson, and for the memories.
As a child we spend many, many hours outside. Playing tag, riding bikes, running through the sprinklers, jumping in puddles, and climbing trees. But as we reach adulthood, this falls away. When I moved to Colorado 12 years ago a friend invited me to join a run club. I wasn't "over the moon" about this idea, but I did like the idea of getting outside for a run (and then heading back to the pub for a celebratory toast), so I signed up. Though the running part wasn't so fun at first (and I was always the last person to finish the loop), I really enjoyed the thinking time and the fresh air (even though we were running in downtown Denver). Over the years I've expanded my running to much longer distances and, thankfully, have moved off the road for most of my runs and spend much of my time off the beaten path. The longer distances allow for more time outdoors and wonderful views along the way!
Nearly two years ago I learned of the I Run 4 program (www.whoirun4.com) and signed up to be paired with a buddy. A little over a year ago I was paired with Jackson, a little boy with CHD (specifically, Jackson has a hole in his heart) and epilepsy. Jackson is a little warrior who is now two, and whose favorite animal is the cow. Running for him gives my runs, both training and races, a purpose; he gives me strength...and he's also renewed my excitement for cows. It has been an amazing experience to get to know Jackson and his parents, and I was blessed with the opportunity to meet them when I traveled to Chicago for a race last fall. I look forward to returning to Chicago this fall to run a race, see Jackson and his parents, and to meet Jackson's new baby brother.
Life is about experiences. As a single thirty-something, the world is my oyster as far as what I want to do with my free time. I love to travel and to spend time with friends, and I find that running is a great way to meld these two passions together to create lasting memories. When pounding the pavement I get to see old friends and meet new, explore new cities during the race, and see the sights while playing tourist after the run. Trail running allows me to explore the backcountry and see glorious sights.
I'm happy to go out and do training runs on my own, and many of my favorite memories, such as the one pictured above, are captured in pictures during those runs. Many races provide a more tangible reminder of the memories with medals. A number of my friends choose their races based on the medals, which can often lead to some pretty awesome "bling," but for me, it is often the smallest or most softly-stated medals that mean the most. Regardless the size, I hang my medals with pride and often break into a smile when one of the medals catch my eye, bringing a memory to the front of my mind.
That said, I continue to run - to explore new cities and trails, to make new friends and visit old, to get outside and enjoy the fresh air like a kid again...all the while making wonderful new memories!
Now - a little "bonus" for reading through the end of the blog! I got the rack you see pictured above from Victory Medal Hangers (victorymedalhangers.com) a couple months ago, and the have graciously offered to do a giveaway of one of these medal racks! (Your choice of 1 row or 3 as the rack pictured above, and they'll ship directly to you.) So, let's hear it...
* Why do you run?
* What are some of your favorite memories?
Share a little bit below to be entered into the drawing for a chance to be the newest owner of one of these awesome medal displays! (Please share by 10pm MST on 8/12, and I'll randomly pick a winner on the 13th!) In the meantime, HAPPY RUNNING!!!
March was an action-packed month with a LOT of running. Thankfully I'd been smart when planning the first part of my year and had taken that into account and only planned 2 races near the end of the month. I did, however, schedule a CrossFit competition! I'd done three or four competitions in 2015, but didn't manage to fit any into my crazy 2016 race calendar, so I figured this would be a nice way to take a step back from running and get back after those weights.
This gave me the opportunity to get back into the gym and "skip" weekday runs without feeling guilty...because finding a balance sure isn't easy! It was FANTASTIC to get back to my favorite form of cross training and to catch up with all of my CF buddies - it had been WAY too long since I'd spent quality time in the gym. Granted, this also meant that I had many a rough workout!
The competition I'd signed up for was a team competition with 3 other members (two guys and one gal) from my gym. The event was called "Barbells for Bullies" and benefited a local Pit Bull rescue - bonus, that meant there were dogs EVERYWHERE during the day of the event!!! But I'm getting ahead of myself. A few months back someone posted the link for this competition on our gym's Facebook page. Immediately someone (one of the "big strong" people) jumped in and wanted to make a team. I wanted to compete, but I had no business joining that person's team, so I put out a call for folks to join me in the, "I'm a wimp, but I love Bullies" division (more commonly called "scaled" in the CF world). We had a full team within a week! (Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who does CrossFit is a great, big meat head...many of us just look like scrawny little shmo's like me! Granted, our gym's other team, "The Jackson 4," were most definitely great, big strong folks...but not meat heads either.)
Three of the four people on our team can best be classified as "short" (and I don't feel bad saying that as I'm the shortest)...so we picked an appropriate team name, "Your Dog Is Taller Than Us!" HA! It worked though, and helped play into our "we're just gonna push our own limits and have fun" sort of attitude. Generally speaking, when I compete I have two goals - to have fun and to push myself to do stuff I didn't think I could. Bonus if I don't come in last! As the competition drew near we started to strategize. Since our main goal was to have fun, we focused mostly on making sure that everyone on the team understood the workouts (there are all sorts of structured "rules" as to how you do these moves/lifts/workouts, and everyone needs to know the "right stuff" before you start). We also made sure to discuss "who should do what." Thankfully, the workouts really were most advantageous for short people...YAY! There were a few moves (rowing and wall balls) that are easier and/or tall people are generally better at them, but these were (thankfully) not the focus of most of our effort. We made a general plan, and then showed up!
Like I said...dogs EVERYWHERE!!! We were greeted by 5 pit bulls from the rescue who were available for adoption, and lots of people came to watch and brought their dogs too (Maggie even came and sported some LCF pride)!
We were nervous, but we'd all done the best we could to prepare. We warmed up, and hit the ground running. The first workout was the one we all expected to "do the worst" in because it was the strength workout. Two of us were doing bench press, and two doing power cleans. The goal was to get as much total weight as possible. Everyone (except me) set a new PR (and while I didn't set a new one, I did tie my standing PR), so we were off to a much better start than expected!
The second workout was our bread and butter - dead lifts and variations of push ups - we KILLED IT!! I did far better in this than I thought I would...and learned that I can hammer out 15 deficit push ups in about 20 seconds (not something I normally "do"). We went into the final workout expecting to fall somewhere near the "bottom of the ladder" because of the first movement in the workout:
...then a little bit of magic happened...
WE TOOK THIRD!!!!!
So long story...well...a little bit less long - Even if you're the underdog (literally) you can do great things! Little doesn't mean weak, and you can often find a way to use it to your advantage!
The rest of the month was a whirlwind - I started to find a balance between running and CrossFit and running, did a couple of races (Runs with Scissors and Three Creeks Half Marathons on the 22nd and 23rd) and enjoyed time with friends (hiking, running, eating), and then buckled down as I took a look at my crazy months (yeah, plural) to come:
My main goal for 2017 is to have fun. So far...HUGE SUCCESS!!!
I've opted to forgo "traditional" training as that was the main factor in my over-training/unhappy running during parts of 2016. I've run some. Mostly on the weekends, but I've fit in the occasional mid-week fun club run (Wahoo's for Taco Tuesday!) or meet-up with friends. I've tried to get into the gym three times a week - some weeks I've made this happen, others I haven't. There were times in February when this caused me to panic a bit because of my March race schedule:
Thankfully I have a PHENOMENAL group of friends who support my insanity, and a few were willing to come out and support me for this silly training run. I planned a central location where I could loop (In addition to not particularly wanting to do this run, I didn't really want to carry everything with me) - my car was the meeting point and aid station. I packed enough water to hydrate a small army, olives, beef jerky, and COOKIES!
Sjored showed up when I was about a mile and a half in, and we hit the road/path/sidewalk running. Monica joined us a couple of miles later. I'd told folks that I was going to be "slow" (most of my friends are a fair amount faster than I) - likely an 11-12 minute mile average pace. Thankfully, this didn't *actually* happen. Sjored has those nice, long legs of which short people (i.e.: ME) are always jealous, so he kept me moving in the low-to mid 10's. Monica hung with us until about mile 8 (because not all runners are silly enough do to things like run 20 miles "for fun"), and Sjored was a ROCK STAR and hung with me until 16.5ish. This was a godsend because I got horrendously bored (not tired, not hurt, not unable to run...just bored and "over it") at mile 15. I would have quit if he hadn't been with me. At this point I justified walking the "huge hills" (which are really just small rollers), but we kept on moving. By the time Sjored had to leave, I was totally ready to be done, but was past the "point of no return," and nothing was going to keep me from finishing all 20! I did. Yay!
I had friends fly into town for DreamCatcher and That Dam. They're those super-duper-crazy types of runners who fly into Colorado to run back-to-back halves at elevation even though they live at something very close to 0'. We all planned on "running our own races," and I assumed that I'd just plod along, finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack as I wanted these races to be "easy distance."
Famous last words.
Stretch goal for DreamCatcher: 2:15...actual time: 2:08 (my 3rd fastest half ever...)
Stretch goal for That Dam: 2:30...actual time: 2:15 (at least I hit yesterday's stretch goal?)
Considering the minimal mileage I'd put in to this point in the year (I'd run about 100 miles in January and February combined), my body logically should not have been able to do this...but it did...and, more importantly...
I HAD FUN!!!
So I held onto that fun, enjoyed Running of the Green and some trail running/hinking (and a visit from Baylee), and tried to ignore the super-duper-scary thought that was starting to sneak into my mind... "HOLY CRAP, I HAVE TO RUN 26.2 SOON...THAT'S REALLY FAR!!!!"
Before I knew it, I was in LA and at packet pickup with my friends. I told everyone that I was going to take it easy, enjoy the race, and just "see what happened." I did...kinda. See, I'm a downhill runner. Translation: my short legs really suck at going uphill (I have a very well-trained fast hike), but since I'm quite agile, I can roadrunner my way down! And even though I don't "race" in races, I always look at the elevation profile and run a strategic race (i.e.: it's silly for me to blow all my energy trying to run up a hill that's longer than it appears). LA has a number of relatively steep downhills at the start, so I knew that I'd really let myself go when I got to them.
I started somewhere near the front of the middle of the open corral and figured I'd let myself bob and weave through the throngs of people as I tackled those hills. It felt good. The weather was great. There were a gazillion people running, volunteering, and cheering, so it was FUN! Around mile 9 I started to think about how I might get bored again and knew that, historically, beer made me happy during a marathon. I started my search for beer. This definitely kept me occupied. So much so that I nearly missed my friends Corey (who had watermelon) and Alicja (who had ice as it was a pretty warm and humid day)...but when I heard them call my name, I abandoned the dream of beer (momentarily) and made a bee-line. I stopped and chatted with them. Caught my breath, laughed, and then got back after it.
As expected, at mile 16 I got really bored. There was a lot to look at, but I was just "over it." But I used what had become "The Great Beer Chase" to keep me occupied. SUCCESS AT MILE 18!!! There was a guy handing out cans of beer...I told him that I was in love with him (hey, I'd been wanting beer for 9 miles...) and very happily accepted a can. I shared it with the two guys near me that were clearly in a lot of pain. We walked, talked about the merits of beer mid-race, laughed, and drank beer. Then I ran! With a new pep in my step, I looked at my watch and started doing some runner's math (it'd be quite interesting to try to write out the silly equations/calculations that happen in my head during a race...I'm sure my former students would get a kick out of it) - and I had a HUGE revelation.
Assuming I could just keep moving for another 8ish miles, I would set a new PR. There was a reason to *want* to run again! I kept moving and set silly little goals - "I'll run until that guy with the Poop sign, it's funny and I can thank him when I start walking," or "No, Melissa, you don't need to walk 5 steps after your last break...you can make it until you're offered an other orange slice!" This quickly took me to mile 21 where I set a *really* silly goal - "I'm gonna run this ENTIRE MILE!!!"
Yeah, I told that lady that I loved her too! This was beer in a kiddie cup, which was the PERFECT amount at this point in the race. I savored the hoppy goodness over the course of the next 8 steps (yep, I counted while walking) and then got back after that mile. Those 8 steps were the only ones I walked between 21 and 22...and to make up for the 8 steps, I ran the additional tenth of a mile between mile marker 22 and the next aid station. I was on cloud 9 and started to a bit more runner's math...
I CAN RUN A SUB-5 HOUR MARATHON!!!!
This realization really lit a fire under my bum. The lazy little walk breaks were a story of miles past. I was now on a mission! At mile 23 I caught up to Lisa...didn't expect that to happen, and was sad to hear that she was hurting...but she's such a rock star that she cheered me on and told me to, "GO GET THAT PR!!!" (Had to choke back a few tears there.)
I did it! I cried tears of joy. I hobbled to get my medal. And I smiled...endlessly. I was in disbelief (still am)!
Then I took my phone out of airplane mode and found out just how many people had been following me online - I had SO MANY messages from friends congratulating me!!! I had no clue that so many people were cheering me on. Wow. More tears of joy.
Bonus - one of those friends informed me that I ran a 4:50 flat...no spare seconds...seriously an AWESOME time to have as a PR - not sure I ever want to beat it because 4:50:00 looks pretty darn cool!
The rest of the weekend was spent with friends - celebrating victories (Chavet ran a course PR and Dee Dee finished the marathon a mere 7 weeks after having shoulder surgery) and moving past frustrations (Lisa's knee and Deb's first DNF). Regardless each person's personal outcome, we were together...and WE WENT TO (well, not Disney, but...) UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!!!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter...yeah buddy!
The following weekend's run at the 17.75k was supposed to be an "easy shake out." It was...and it was a beautiful course. Lisa and I had a blast, made some friends, and then did DC up right.
Guess what - I SURVIVED MARCH!! And...
IT WAS FUN!!!
Now I'm back home, back to work, and switching modes for the next great undertaking...a CrossFit competition on April 15! Here's hoping the remaining 9 months of 2017 are as FUN as the first 3!!!
I run. A lot. (Well, this month I haven’t been running much, but that’s because the body needed to recover…)
Compared to most people, I run far. Compared to some, I don't run far. My "happy place" is the half marathon - it challenges me, but doesn't ruin my body, and the training doesn't absorb all of my free time. When given the choice, I prefer running on trails over running on pavement
Because of my affinity for trail running, I have many friends who are far more crazy than I - their happy place is somewhere in "ultra land." For those "normal" people out there who aren't familiar with the wild and wacky world of ultra running, an ultra (short for "ultra-marathon") is defined as a footrace that is longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Depending on who you speak with, you'll get a different answer as to what distance makes you a "real" ultra runner, but generally speaking, the shortest distance that is "accepted" as an ultra (in the ultra community) is the 50k (31ish miles).
Since I have so many friends who run ultras, I’ve found a home within the ultra community over the past few years. I volunteer, pace, and/or crew at 2 or 3 ultras each year and have made many phenomenal friends through those races! There was, however, one thing that bugged me going into 2016 - since I had never run an ultra, many people would look at me as if my opinion/thoughts didn't matter. I'll wholly admit that I had never experienced an ultra firsthand, but I had done my fair share of reading, spent countless hours around ultras (absorbing everything I saw), had hiked/run many long distances with various extreme elevation gains/losses (living in the Rockies has its advantages), and had taken the time to pick the brains of my closest ultra running friends to make sure that I knew what an ultra "really entails" before I embarked upon my first pacing gig at Run Rabbit Run 100 (RRR) in September 2015. My runner was successful at RRR, and I had a phenomenal experience pacing it...but I really didn't like the "looks" I got from some runners when I'd answer questions about running ultras.
Because of this I decided that I would sign up and run ONE ultra during 2016 - a 50k at Bighorn. (For more info on that specific race, see my previous blog - Never Say Never.) It was a great race and a phenomenal experience, but one that, going through the training, I said I’d NEVER repeat.
Famous last words, right? Sometime around Bighorn (I’m not sure if it was just before or shortly after the race) my best crazy ultra running friend, Chavet, said something along the lines of, "Hey, a bunch of us are going to go down to Phoenix in December and run Across the Years! You should come! I'm going to do the 24-hour race, and everyone else is going to do the 72-hour race - that way we can all be buckle buddies!" (Of course she said this with a HUGE smile on her face and in such an excited and happy tone that anyone listening wanted to have THAT MUCH FUN!)
I said yes? (I'm still not sure what was running through my mind at that point in time.)
The rest of the year went by, all the while I "knew" that I'd be running 100 miles in December, but the full impact of it didn't really set in until I was past all of my "other races" for the year (which didn't wrap up until December 3rd). On December 4th, reality started to set in...
During my training for Bighorn I learned that I didn't want to over train. From the marathons and back-to-back races I'd run during the remainder of the year I'd learned that I could keep moving through quite a bit of pain. Because of this I had decided not to do any race-specific training - I'd just do the races I'd planned, and I'd spend as much time on my feet as I possibly could. [Hint: this is NOT a good training plan...and I would not suggest it...if you decide to run an ultra, TRAIN!] Thankfully I had 4 friends who were also “talked into” ATY that would be tackling this crazy endeavor by my side (and, of course, Chavet, who would be there the entire 72 hours even though she was *only* running 24 of them for her own race).
A quick sidebar on pain – when I refer to pain I mean the okay kind of pain, the aches, hot spots, and spasms that are saying, "I'm tired, can we go home yet?" Not the bad kind of pain that says, "c'mon stupid, time to STOP before you get an injury!
I may not have trained, but man did I ever plan! My friend Lisa was going to stick with me most of the time (she wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten talked into this either), and we decided that it would be best for each of our "mental games" if we did 50 miles on the first day of the race so that each of the remaining two days was "only" 25 miles each. (For some reason “less than a marathon” just doesn’t seem so bad after running 50? I dunno…) On top of the actual running plan, we planned to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, and would take time to eat regular meals and shower.
Before we knew it, December 28th was here and we were at the start line. Everyone had their own plan - Chavet was running the 24-hour race and was hoping to get ~120 miles (since I likely won’t get back to this – she hit 119.5!!), Dee Dee wanted to run 45 miles the first day, 30 the second day, and 25 the third, and Deb wanted to break it up evenly - 34-33-33. We all started at the same time and at our own paces. Lisa and I ran (slowly) the first 5 miles, and then I chimed in with, "we better pick our walk-run intervals now or we'll be regretting it in about 30 miles!" (Neither of us had ever run longer than 32 miles in one go…and the furthest either of us had run since Bighorn was a road marathon – her in NYC and me at MCM.) We chose our intervals and, surprisingly, were able to stick to them pretty darn well for the rest of the day.
We set a new 50k PR, shaving about 2hr 45min from our time at Bighorn!
We kept on moving all day - yog, walk, yog, potty stop, yog, walk, yog, food, yog... It was working! At mile 45 my calves gave me a loud and clear, "I hate you!" and seized up, but it was the "okay hurt" and I was able to keep moving to finish 50 miles on day one. It took us about an hour longer than we'd hoped, but both Lisa and I were ecstatic with our day - WE REALLY WERE ULTRA RUNNERS - we'd finished a 50 miler (without actually training for it, mind you)!!! After finishing our 50 miles, we had a fireball shot (we came prepared) and hit up the aid tent to have the AMAZING first aid dudes roll out those tight calves (I knew that I’d wimp out if I tried to do it myself…and they REALLY ripped into those now rock-like muscles)!
Day two we woke up and showered, then had a normal breakfast (they have a PHENOMENAL aid station/kitchen at ATY, so we were pretty spoiled with mashed potatoes, eggs, cheese, and ham for breakfast), and hit the ground running...er...walking. Our legs were pretty tight, so we started walking while eating our breakfast, planning on "easing into running" as the day went on.
There are many things you expect to have happen during an ultra - you aren't "excited" about them, but you're prepared for them. My calves’ seizing up was one of those things. Then there are the things you can't even imagine. Like hives.
Yes. Hives. Red, blotchy, itchy, hot, torturous hives. All over my feet, ankles, and calves. By mile 3 on day two, my feet were screaming to get out of my shoes (I was even wearing ones with a nice sized toe box and a fair amount of padding). I suffered through it for 10 miles because at this point I didn't know that the hives were there (they were just starting to get a little itchy, and weren't red or blotchy...yet…just HOT). So after 10 miles I put on the oldest, most loved pair of shoes that I'd brought down to Arizona (they had about 530 miles on them already) as they were the most "roomy" shoes I could find. The shoe change helped in that my feet didn't feel restricted, but they still felt really hot - like all they wanted was to be out of the shoes! By the end of the day I knew the hives were there because I could see them climbing the back of my calves. I had a hunch that I knew what it was from - the dirt along the course - but there was no "fix" for it, so I suffered through because even though I was miserable, I knew this still wasn't a "bad" hurt…and I was too stubborn to “let the hives win.”
That evening we all stopped and had dinner - Smash Burger - and it was the BEST. FOOD. EVER!!! It pulled my spirits up and made the next few miles a bit better, but by the time we finished our 25 miles for the day, everything hurt (and much of my lower body itched too). [Hint: when you're feeling grumpy and miserable - EAT!] Once we'd finished our mileage for the day, I sat down, wiped as much dirt off of my legs as I could (showers were only available in the mornings), took Benadryl, and rubbed Calamine lotion on the hives. The Benadryl helped me sleep, but unfortunately didn't get rid of the hives and they were still itchy.
I "ran" day three in flip flops with Injinji socks (thankfully Chavet brought extras) - the socks kept the dirt away from my skin (at least as much as possible), and the flip flops allowed my feet to vent the heat that made them so miserable on day two. It was tough, it was painful, and I'll proudly admit that I shed my fair share of tears during those 25 miles. Thankfully there were some pretty amazing people out there – one even sat with me while I rolled out my hips and bum…I was in a dark place, and she made it “okay” to be in that place, which was AWESOME! (If you’ve ever been in a dark place and had some overly cheery individual try to convince you how INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT it is to just “pep up” and “be happy,” you know what I’m talking about…if you’ve never been in that dark place, be thankful and remember this when you eventually hit that place!) As the day dragged on (25 miles takes a really long time when you’re walking 16-18 minute miles and taking food/water stops every mile or two), Lisa and I learned that our bodies wanted two very different things - mine needed to run some and couldn't walk very fast at all, while hers preferred walking fast as it hurt to run. We stuck together most of the day, hobbling along, but decided it best to part ways for the last 5 or 6 miles. It was tough, but actually a very good decision. And guess what??? WE ALL FINISHED!
So what did I take away from this experience?
There may not be another 100 (or 50) miler in my future, but I’ll be around them pacing, crewing, and volunteering…and I look forward to getting “back to basics” as I tackle my first race since ATY this weekend – a nice, low-key half marathon…wOOt!!!
Seven years ago I said, "I'll NEVER run a marathon..." yet six years ago I was starting to train for a marathon.
Four years ago I said, "I'll NEVER run multiple halves in a month..." yet three years ago I joined Half Fanatics.
Two years ago I said, "I'll NEVER run another marathon..." yet last year I ran five of them.
Last year I said, "I'll run one 50k, but NEVER anything longer..." and yesterday I finished a "soft" 100 miler.
Moral of that story? I need to learn to stop saying "NEVER." I need to stop putting up false barriers and just accept that I can do anything! That even if things don't go as planned, amazing things can happen!! To get the "big picture" behind this revelation, let me backtrack a bit.
In 2015 I ran a Mainly Marathons series in New England - 7 halves in 7 states in 7 days. I met many inspirational people, and pushed my boundaries further than I'd ever imagined (that was, in fact, the first time I ever ran back-to-back halves), and actually set a half marathon PR on the 7th day (2:01:59)! Because of that experience, I decided to set two rather large goals for 2016:
1. Complete a 50k trail race
2. Run a sub-2hr half marathon
Near the end of 2015 I hired a coach and we started planning. Also near the end of 2015, I had a friend talk me into a crazy 4-day "home made" race series. From these two things I learned that I would be easily susceptible to peer pressure (all my friend did was mention "the plan" and I was right on board), so I knew that I'd have to be cautious about possible temptations during my training cycles.
I discussed with my coach, carefully selected my goal races (Bighorn 32M in June and the Chicago Half in September), and we made a plan. As I knew I would have a tough time "just saying no" when friends asked me to join them at local races, I signed up to volunteer for many of those races. This would allow me to focus on my training plan while still being able to participate in many of the races that I felt I was "missing."
I ran my crazy four-race series from December 1st through January 3rd, rested for a few weeks, and then started into training! Thankfully my good friend Lisa was also going to run Bighorn and we were able to do most of our long training runs together.
Over the weeks we built our mileage, and things seemed to be going well...during our 20 mile long run we even managed to set a 1 mile PR (in mile 19 of our run, nonetheless)! However, after that week, things quickly unraveled for me. I found that my body was constantly tired and I wasn't recovering as I should have. Trust me, there wasn't a trick I didn't try - sleep, massages, chiropractor, every sort of supplement and/or natural remedy under the sun - but I just couldn't seem to "get back to good." There was no denying it, I had over-trained and, unfortunately, I wasn't finding the "fun" in running.
Running became just another "task" (like "work" and "adulting"), and it hurt me both physically and emotionally to follow my initial plan. Because of that I made a few adjustments to the plan...just small "tweaks" to allow me enough rest to avoid any further overtraining before Bighorn. Since I was cutting back on some of the miles, I was able to add some time back in at the gym, which helped my spirits a bit. But this didn't create a "miracle fix" and I was still tired, though I did start to enjoy running a little bit as race day approached. Unfortunately, I ended up with a horrible cold the week before Bighorn. I rallied, took all of the cold remedies, and got myself to a place where I was "good enough" to try the race.
It was hot on race day (I believe it went over 100 degrees at one point), and I couldn't move fast (darn head cold), so ice and cough drops were key components to my race. Thankfully, Lisa stuck by my side the whole time...even though it took us what seemed like an eternity to complete 32M. But we had FUN! Setting aside the heat, it was a B-E-A-Utiful course (seriously, if you're looking for a challenging course with stunning views, run Bighorn), and we made the most of our day!!!
We both walked away with a few killer blisters, but had huge smiles on our faces and were excited to start our next chapters. For the next part of my year, I had to attack speed training...something that I've never enjoyed, and something that I quickly found wasn't going to work. Even a month after Bighorn, my body had not recovered and I couldn't run even 1.5 miles at the pace I'd need to hit my goal. I fought to "force it" for a couple of weeks, and running quickly became a chore. Eventually I faced the harsh reality that my goal for a sub-2hr half just wasn't realistic in the timeframe I had for training.
I decided to change the goal. Since running was no longer "fun," I determined that it'd be best to "save" the sub-2hr goal for another time, and instead to have my final goal for 2016 to "find the FUN in running!" So I did what any "sane" runner does - I signed up for a bunch of races, joined a few new clubs, made new running friends, and GOT BACK AT IT! I ran with friends, I ran with my dog (Maggie), I ran alone, I rested, I went into the gym and lifted, I hiked, and I did all of it with absolutely no training plan in mind! It was amazing how quickly things became enjoyable again after I'd lifted the pressure off of myself! Even if my body was tired or sore, I was able to take a step back from the pain and see the joy in activity again...I fell back in love with running and being active!
During the first half of 2016 (before Bighorn) I ran 10 races (7 half marathons, 2 marathons, and 1 Ragnar Trail Relay), three of which were part of the crazy 4-day series at the very start of the year, and the rest of which were carefully scheduled as part of my training for Bighorn. In the second half of my year (after Bighorn) I ran 18 races - 1 15k, 13 half marathons, 3 marathons, and 1 100M (that story will be a whole blog unto itself)! The increase in races during the second half of the year reminded me of the camaraderie that is truly at the heart of the running community. We lift each other up and help one another. We're supportive and loving and kind and even encourage each other to do crazy things. We're a family! It turns out that I'd lost that connection during my training and had started to rely only on myself...which clearly didn't work very well. I needed my run family too!!!
So what did I learn from 2016?
* Always, always, always embrace your crazy running family.
* Go to the silly group run after work...especially if you're stressed out!
* Don't be afraid to take a rest day (or 2, or 3).
* Mix it up to keep things from getting stale.
* And most importantly, NEVER SAY NEVER!!!!
Go after your dreams...set those goals!!!! As the saying goes, "reach for the moon, and even if you fall short you'll land among the stars." It's true! Dream big, set lofty (yet realistic, don't go too hog-wild on your first try) goals, and if something "goes wrong" along the way, I PROMISE that you're still going to learn a whole heckuva lot about yourself and will come out so much stronger!
So what's my goal for 2017? Easy. HAVE FUN!!! I'm going to run a lot, I'm going to spend time with friends, I'm going to get back into the gym on a regular basis, and I'm going to be HAPPY!!
Thanks to all my friends for making 2016 a wonderful year filled with fantastic memories. Sending you all wishes for a happy, healthy, and FUN 2017!!!
Melissa is many things...among them, she is a friend, sister, daughter, dog owner, RunJunkEes Ambassador, Colfax Marathon Ambassador, Skirt Sports Ambassador, Lowry CrossFit member, and a mountain girl at heart!