Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Running Out of Time at Leadville 100

Just wanted to give folks an update on my run at Leadville this last Saturday while I collect my thoughts for a more thorough report later. The bottom line is I had a great race for the first 40 miles. I was hitting every split at the aid stations despite my knee giving me problems. Then I hit Hope Pass. That was where the wheels came off. I climbed slower then I expected and when I finally did hit the top, I found I could no longer run downhill. My left quad was shot due to compensating for the painful right knee.

I got to Winfield (50 miles) 20 minutes before the cut off time. My crew fully believed in me so I quickly hit the trail with my husband/pacer for the return climb over Hope. I think deep down I knew I wasn't going to make the cut off to Twin Lakes but Pat and Dan had so much faith in me that I knew I had to give it my best shot. But when we reached the top of Hope and I tried to run down the other side, it was just too painful. I had to walk and therefore I missed the cut off to continue past Twin Lakes.

So my race ended at 60 miles which is still a personal best distance for me. I hate to make excuses but I know the fact that I couldn't run these last 3 weeks really hurt me. My legs lost the ability to take a pounding, especially on the long downhills. It was still a wonderful experience and I love the fact that my husband got to pace me for the first time and see part of the course that is the most beautiful and challenging. I'll try to get a full report up in the next couple days.

Many thanks to everyone who had such positive comments and belief in me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cool and Not So Cool

It's Tuesday night and tomorrow is going to be an exciting day. It's my daughter's first day of kindergarten. It's hard to believe I've had her in my life for 5 years and now she's starting school. Today we got to go by the school and meet her teacher, see her classroom, and fill out mounds of paperwork. Her class is absolutely adorable and I've heard nothing but wonderful things about her teacher. And I must say, what makes this even more special, is the fact that I went to this same school in second grade in 1978. I never thought that 31 years later I would be taking my own daughter there.

The other exciting thing that will happen on Wednesday is Pat and I will head to Colorado for the Leadville 100 this weekend. After we drop Caitlyn off we will hit the road. My mom is in town and will pick her up and probably do something special like go out to lunch at McDonald's and then have ice cream. I'm excited about this weekend but I must say, I'll be lining up on that start line at less than 100% healthy. Cool was my downfall. And new shoes. Here's the story.

Running at night is cool. I guess that's why the 12 Hours at Cool Night Run is really cool. Last year was my first time doing this event and it was also my first night run. I was running on an injury so I decided to just do 3 9 mile laps for 27 miles. The first lap is done in the daylight giving you a chance to get to know the course then you gently enter the darkness as the sun sets over the golden hills.

RD Nancy Warren giving last minute instructions

This year would be different. I had a strong run at TRT 2 weeks before and wanted to have another strong run at Cool. My coach wanted me to do a 4 hour run on Sat and another 4 hour run on Sunday. Instead I ran 9 hours on Sat and 1:30 on Sunday. Sometimes I don't follow directions so well.

My plan was to do 4 laps for 36 miles. I figured that would be a good solid run without taxing myself too much. Plus I was having a periformis issue that was causing pain down the back of my right leg. One thing I didn't mention in my last post was that I did TRT in a brand new pair of shoes. Now, you might ask yourself, why would someone do such a thing. Because sometimes I'm stupid. I figured they were the same exact shoe I've been training in so why not do a long run in them. I didn't figure in the fact that my other pair has a couple hundred miles on them and the new ones had, well, zero. That could cause a problem. Since I didn't put together the connection of 50 miles in a brand new pair of shoes and the periformis pain, I decided to do another long run in the new shoes as well. Yeah, like I said, stupid.

Nancy Warren got us started right at 7pm and I quickly settled into a nice pace and was happy that my leg felt pretty good. It wasn't long before I started thinking about doing an extra lap. I must say that the majority of time was spent debating whether to run 4 or 5 laps. Last year's run was magical. It was my first night run and since I was injured I was happy just to be out there. I didn't care about time or distance, I spent 15-20 minutes at the aid station at the end of each lap just relaxing and having a good time. This year was different. I was thinking about time, distance, and a certain 100 mile race looming on the horizon. Needless to say, it wasn't nearly as relaxed but the further I ran, the stronger I felt. My lap times were very consistent and I kept my time at the aid stations very short.

Running through the golden foothills at sunset is an amazing experience. As the sun sinks and the shadows grow long through the black oaks, the temperatures cool and you can feel your energy increase. The course is mostly rolling dirt roads with only a couple steeper hills that I had to walk. I also started thinking maybe I could place in the top 3. I didn't recognize a lot of big names at the beginning so I let my ego start rolling.

I was getting a bit faituged by the end of the 4th lap but decided to push on to lap 5. On the backside of the course at Norm and Helen's aid station, a woman showed up shortly after I did. Hmmm, where did she come from? And how many laps has she done? I decided to hit the trail. She was not far behind and I noticed she was slowly gaining on me as we walked the hill. Now, I didn't run over 40 miles just to get passed in the last 3. So I started running where I had been walking and discovered I could put some distance on my pursuer. I was also surprised to find that I was still climbing strong. The legs felt great.

Horses make way for the runners

I reached the top of the hill and decided I wouldn't stop running until I crossed the finish line. I would treat this like it was the end of Leadville and push myself harder then I wanted to. If that lady wanted to pass me, she would have to work at it. When I got to 1 mile to go, I knew I had it. I continued to push and crossed the finish line in 9:07:10. I debated about doing the extra 5.5 miles to the back side aid station but I already had my Western States 50 mile qualifier so I called it a night. The lady behind me came into the finish laughing that I must have really wanted to stay ahead of her because she really ate my dust. Turns out she did 4 laps so I was ahead of her by a full lap. Oh well, it was good to push myself. However, after seeing the results I was a bit disappointed. I finished 4th female but if I had run that extra 5.5 miles, I would have finished 2nd.

I got cleaned up, visited a bit, then headed home. The sun was rising. I had to pull over about 25 minutes from home and take a quick cat nap so I didn't fall asleep while driving. I got home, crashed on the couch for another hour before the family woke up and we headed to Incline Village. I wanted to get in another run but I noticed my right knee was pretty sore. So while my family played at the park, I ran up Tunnel Creek to the flume trail and back down. It was only 6.5 miles but it was a strong 3.25 mile climb with a painful descent.

We had a nice lunch at Steamers in Kings Beach then headed home. By Monday, my knee was really hurting. It felt like a very tight ITB. I got a foam roller and rolled it, iced it, and started the Ibuprofen routine. I ran easy on Monday and Tuesday but it was very painful. So I stopped running. My coach asked if I had done anything different and I told him about running 100 miles in a brand new pair of shoes (TRT and Cool). He ordered me back into my older shoes and I finally tried running again on the 14th. I ran 1 painful mile. Things were not looking good for Leadville but we went on with preparations to go.

I finally seemed to turn the corner on this past Sunday. I ran 4 miles but in a type of pain that I can work through. I've also been seeing my chiropractor trying to get my periformis taken care of. Things seem to be better in that department as well. So here's how things stand 4 days before my first 100 mile run: my leg/knee still hurts but I think/hope it's something I'll be able to work through on race day. I've run about 13 miles in the last 3 weeks (since Aug 5) but I'm hoping my fitness hasn't disappeared (notice a lot of "hoping" here?)

So my diagnosis is this: an over-use injury from running 2 50 mile races within 2 weeks of each other (one with 10,000 ft of climbing) in brand new shoes which aggravated my ITB and periformis. I'm hoping (there's that word again) that I was able to rest long enough that it will be fine on race day. At least I'll be well rested :) It's definitely not the type of taper I was shooting for.

I'm pretty convinced that if I had run the schedule my coach wanted me to, and was smarter about breaking in a new pair of shoes, this wouldn't have happened. But I let my ego get the better of me at Cool and I ran more than I should have. Will I ever learn? I'm sure nobody else has ever done anyting like this before.

I'm headed to Leadville with the intention of finishing. But I'll be smart. There's a difference between pushing through pain and pushing through an injury. I hope I will know the difference.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler

July 18 I ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler. 2 years ago I did the TRT 50KM as my very first ultra event and fell in love with the course. It's incredibly scenic and challenging and the next morning I felt like I had been run over by a truck. Did I mention that it's tough?

Last year I was hoping to run the 50 miler but was injured and volunteered at the finish line instead. That just served to fuel my desire this year. The timing couldn't have been better in my build up to the Leadville 100.

I drove up to Tahoe by myself allowing my family to sleep in and come up later. They would meet me at the halfway point at Mt. Rose Hwy and again at the finish line.

Milling around the start line

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was how comfortable the temperature was. Would this be a precursor to how warm it would get later? I checked in and discovered that my coach was volunteering behind the table. Finally, after 7 months, I got to meet him. After getting my stuff together I made my way down to the start line where I ran into Gretchen. She's been having a great season but I had no idea how well she'd do in this race.

We started promptly at 6am after being reminded by Dave Cotter to only do the Red House Loop ONCE. After sorting ourselves out on the dirt road we hit the wonderful singletrack that would take us to Marlette Lake. I did a walk/run on the uphills, feeling pretty good but saving myself for a long day.

Marlette is beautiful this time of day. It's a magical feeling to be making your way up into the high sierra knowing that you will run 50 miles before the day is over. It's a peaceful time of day with the flowers just opening up with the first rays of sunshine.

I made my way toward the first aid station only to discover it wasn't there! I kept running and finally it appeared through the trees. I wondered why they had moved it. I didn't need to fill my hydration pack and moved on quickly. I really wanted to work on keeping my AS times short.

After leaving Hobart AS you come across one of the best views on the course. I was still feeling good but I knew my pace was very controlled.

Marlette Lake with Tahoe behind

The section from Hobart to Twin Lakes is one of the most enjoyable for me and I started to push it a little. Once again, as I came into where the AS was suppose to be, it wasn't there. It was now up in the saddle with Tunnel Creek Rd. I filled up with water and a little food and started the descent into "hell". This 6.5 mi section has the reputation of being extremely tough but I actually don't mind it too much. I descended quickly and moved through the AS to the flume road. This road seems to go on forever so it became my goal to just keep running and I managed to pass a couple people here. As I hit the steep, sandy hill I was reduced to a walk.

About a month before, I had done a training run from Mt. Rose hwy to Twin Lakes, the Red House loop, and back to Mt. Rose. I was happy to see that today's Red House loop split was only 5 minutes slower than my training run, considering I was going to be running twice as far. After another quick stop at Tunnel Creek I made the split with the 50K runners (who headed back toward the start) and made my way north to Mt. Rose.

Meanwhile, Pat and the girls were also making their way to the halfway point of the race and getting things set up for my arrival. The job of a crew is pretty thankless though. You spend hours waiting patiently for your runner, only to spend a couple minutes them him/her before they're headed back down the trail. Even though a runner may not always show it, the support they receive from their crew is priceless and always appreciated.

The girls find ways to pass the time

The 9 mile section between Twin Lakes and Mt. Rose includes some wonderful rolling singletrack as it follows the ridgeline with the Tahoe Basin to the west and Washoe Valley to the east.

It was on this section that I passed a lot of 100 mile runners as well as the front pack of 50 mile runners heading south. I was impressed to see Gretchen so soon and as I checked my watch I remember thinking "wow, she may break 10 hours". Very nice.

Washoe Lake to the east

Gretchen on her way to a 9:57 finish

Coming into Mt. Rose aid station

I made it into the Mt. Rose AS in 6:15. I really wanted to be there in 6 hours but I was happy to see that my split time from Tunnel Creek was only 1 minute slower than my earlier training run. After getting my water refilled and enjoying an Otter Pop, I spent a few minutes visiting with my family. Back in April at the American River 50 Mile, my family once again met me at the halfway point to support me. However, I found myself getting very emotional when it was time to head down the trail and I just didn't want to leave. I spent some valuable extra minutes giving more hugs and kisses. As it turns out, I missed breaking 10 hours at the finish by 3 minutes. As much as I enjoyed spending that extra time with everyone, I didn't want to lose any more time than I had to.

So after getting a new full gel flask and replenishing my S Caps, I gave out a few quick hugs and kisses and got back on the trail. If I wanted to finish in 12 hours, I needed to pick it up a bit.

Caitlyn giving out helpful advice

During my training run I really enjoyed this section heading south. But I was fresh then, having already run 25 miles made it a bit more challenging now. I ran as much as I could but the last couple miles just seemed to take forever. It was along this section that I ran into Catra and Andy. We visited a bit and I asked about the aid stations being in different locations. Andy said it's because the new sites provided better cell site coverage. I made it back to Tunnel Creek with a split that was 9 minutes slower than my training run. I spent a few extra minutes here eating watermelon. Lots of watermelon. It just tasted so dang good. I finally tore myself away from the table to start the home stretch. This section is predominantly downhill heading north so I knew it would be quite a bit slower heading south. Looking back, I wish I had pushed harder on this section. I know there are areas where I could have jogged that I continued to walk. But I had already run 35 miles and with another 15 to go I didn't really know how much I had left in the tank. I'm still learning the art of pacing in the world of ultrarunning.

I made it through the Hobart AS and got ready to tackle my favorite challenge of the course, the climb to Snow Valley. I loved this section 2 years ago and it was no different this time. I found myself feeling and running very strong. I tackled the uphills like they were flat. I've never felt so strong before. I was in a groove. I passed quite a few people and they were full of encouragement. It was super windy at the aid station (is it ever not windy?) so I moved straight through after grabbing some M&M's and tackled the next 6 miles of downhill. I had 1:15 to cover this last section if I was going to beat 12 hours. But I kind of dreaded it knowing that it lasts FOREVER. By now my Garmin 305 battery had died so I was in the dark as to the time or distance.
Snow Valley Aid Station

I ran hard and soon my quads were protesting quite loudly. I starting catching up to the tail end of 50K runners and they were all very courteous about moving to the side of the trail as I ran by. I was running as fast as I could but I knew it wasn't going to be enough. My legs hurt so bad I really didn't know how I was still running. But I kept struggling, pushing my body to the limit. I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel and the faster I could cover that distance, the sooner the pain would end. But it was a euphoric pain, the kind of pain you feel when you push a strong body.

After leaving Mt. Rose, my family headed to Reno to get Caitlyn a pair of running shoes. She wasn't happy with her slipper type shoes and she wanted something that she could run across the finish line with her mom. Not only did she end up with a genuine pair of running shoes, they had laces!

The girls right before the finish line

As I came out of the trees and into the meadow, I could hear my girls calling me. There's nothing like having your family cheering you on to give you one last strong push.

Caitlyn fell into step with me and then immediately went into a full sprint. I just laughed as I watched her go, there was no way I could keep up with her. Finally she slowed down and I caught up and she said "Mommy, running this fast makes my chest hurt". We fell back into step together and crossed the line together. I glanced at the timer and it read 12:10:41. Not the 12 hours I was hoping for but I was happy none-the-less. Results are here.

Sara finishing at her speed

Checking out Caitlyn's new shoes

After resting for a bit, I started making my way back up the hill when I ran into my coach, Howard Nippert. We hadn't been able to visit in the morning so it was good to finally get to talk to him and discuss plans for the next 5 weeks until Leadville.

Howard and I discuss running

Suddenly, without warning, I started feeling pretty queasy and light headed. I guess running for 12 hours and then suddenly stopping can do strange things to your body. After sitting for about 10 minutes I was able to walk up the hill to where the cars were parked.

Once again, this proved to be a wonderful event. The weather was perfect. Some people complained about the heat but I never thought it got too hot. I think all the Bikram yoga (hot yoga) I've been doing has been really helpful to getting acclimatized to the heat. Thank you Dave and all the wonderful volunteers. I've now done the 50K and 50M so maybe the 100M is on the horizon. But let's see how Leadville goes first.