Friday, June 25, 2010

From Dusk-To-Dawn

"God, The Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." Habakkuk 3:19

Only two weeks after competing in a Half IronMan I set out on another epic physical journey.

The goal: Run from Sunset to Sunrise. Solo.

The distance: As far as the Lord would allow my legs to carry me. Hopefully farther than I had ever run before.

The Terrain: Primarily gravel roads with plentiful hills & a few paved sections.

The journey began at 10pm with the sun almost entirely set leaving only enough illumination to make out the sillouhettes of tree lines that surrounded the area farmsteads & tall grass lining the roadside. The entire landscape was cloaked in a rich shade of blue, the air was humid & the wind still. It was serene.

I ran without light until I could no longer make out the terrain, then flipped on both headlamps. One around my waist aimed where my footfall would be & the other strapped to my hat casting light straight ahead.

It didn't take long for fear to start tapping me on the shoulder. Running in the dark is not new to me, but this was on remote country roads & I was solo. Every dark shrub off in the distance was startling. It took 5miles before I was finally able to lock into logic.

What was I afraid of? Why? This area isn't really known for animal attacks or strange people lurking in the woods in hopes of a lone ultra-runner passing by. The taps of fear on my shoulder followed by adrenaline spikes became more of an irritant, but a steady reminder to pray. While I may have been running lone the miles between meeting up with my crew for aid, I was never truly alone.

"You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." Selah. Psalm 32:7

This verse was heavy on my mind, especially as I had earnestly desired to complete the first section of the route roughly 13miles without the distraction of music. I succeeded.

There were many large rollers along this part of the route, but when you can only see as far as the headlamp will cast there is no way to fully grasp just how large the climbs are until your 1/2 way up them. I did my best to remind myself to walk the uphills in hopes of giving my body longevity for the miles ahead. This seemed to work well, but often as I stopped to walk I was tapped on the shoulder & all I wanted was to push past whatever it whatever it was that spooked me so I ended up running a lot of them.

When meeting up with my crew to top off the water in my pack & grab additional fuel I was informed that thunderstorms were forming and heading our way. There was talk of me being pulled early if the weather got bad. I didn't want this. My heart was set on epic.

I continued down the road picking up the pace in hopes of getting myself as far ahead of the storm as possible. Music while it can be a great encouragement during a run can also breed weakness & this training run was all about limiting any emotional or physical crutches so I limited my use of the Ipod to 3miles at a time. If I wanted music I would have to earn it and wait the 6-8miles between doses.

Miles 13-18 passed quickly and the residual muscle fatigue from the 70.3 was getting beat out with every step. Flashes of lightning & the slight rumble of thunder began to make their presence known off to the west. When I turned my head to eye the storm cell moving in I was met with 10 sets of green eyes reflecting back at me. The lightning provided just enough light to make out large black creatures & I instinctively said aloud "Dear Lord, let those be cows." I have never longed to hear mooing in my life. They never did, but I was eventually able to cast light on to the only white cow amongst the solid black ones.

At mile 22 I stopped to picked up more water, perpetuem, orange slices & my rain gear. Jeremy debriefed me on the severe thunderstorms forming around us and we modified our game plan adding in another aid station in case the weather became to poor to continue.

Just as I hit the road again the rain began to fall and I was thoroughly soaked within a mile. I've done plenty of running in rain so this was not about to deter me. Instead of breathing the 85-90% humidity as I had for the last 20+ miles I was now being invigorated by the showers. So far I had only needed music for a total of 4mi the entire run, running deaf in a storm didn't seem wise so I packed the ipod away & used the bag from it to protect my headlamp from the rain.

As I hit the marathon mark I sent a cheer out into the silence that surrounded me & then started climbing the next hill as my quads began to growl reminding me to pop another dose of endurolytes to stave off any cramping. Periods of muscle fatigue would come & go, but I mentally powered through. Thankfully the fatigue of no sleep wasn't causing any issues, yet.

When I looked down at my watch and read 27.5 miles I started looking around for the next turn on my route, I thought I was close. My crew was waiting for me there. The next road sign I saw was 20 streets from where I needed to turn, but my directions card indicated that due to the mileage I should be nearing my turn. 20 streets away is not "near". I must be lost. I stopped to call my husband, no answer. Sent a text, no answer. Signal was close to dead here. With the rain still falling & fuel/water getting low I made the decision to turn around. Within a .8 of a mile I saw a car approaching from behind. My crew. I was not lost, I had just changed counties and this effected the street numbers. So I turned around for the second time.

Having to retrace my steps was discouraging so I pulled out the ipod for a little reprieve. It was now past 4am. & I was beginning to get tired. Jeremy waited for me at the turn I feared I had missed and once I reached it we made the decision that I would have to cut the run short when I reached my parent's farm which was supposed to be my final aid station. Severe weather warnings were now being issued, the skies were beginning to turn that eerie shade of green & the wind was picking up. Thankfully the sun was beginning to rise away from the storm-clouds and the rain stopped, renewing some energy.

With the shorter distance now in mind I picked up the pace. If I wasn't going to make it to the 35-40miles I had set as my hypothetical goal, I was going to haul. My legs were feeling pretty hashed by then, but they still managed to run swift. Finally I was onto familiar terrain again & knew I would at least make my goal, running farther than I had ever run before.

I reached my family's property-line at 33.45 miles & proceeded to run around the house to round the mileage out at 33.5.

It may not have been as epic as I hoped, but it was still epic. I overcame irrational fears, rain & fatigue. Another great night, another blessed run.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Liberty 70.3 | One Breath at a Time

It's another Saturday morning, but this morning starts off far different than most. The alarm goes off promptly at 5am. I instantly jolt awake without a wisp of lingering fatigue. I have slept well. As I eye over my tech gear & mix together bottles of fuel in the hotel bathroom I look up into the mirror to see the numbers 294 on my right bicep then tell myself "Today you will travel 70.3 miles." The concept now mentally stated, doesn't sink in.

The bike gets loaded into the car then my husband & I head to the race start. As we near the Baker Reserve I am reminded of the hills. This would happen many times today, except I would be on two wheels instead of four. I decide to quiet my apprehension by turning my focus to forcing myself to eat breakfast, a bagel w/ cream cheese & a strawberry Odwalla drink.

Entering the park cyclists are everywhere and the transition area is quickly filling. It's a "first come, first serve" method of picking your spot, so I choose the best spot available as close to the bike exit as possible. I don't want to run in my bike shoes any farther than necessary, it's slow & inefficient. Having practiced T1 & T2 in my living room earlier in the week makes setting up my area easy.

I spot Maggie & Cory who have been on the road since 3am. They have come to cheer me on. At this point I am still struggling to get my game face on, but Maggie's contagious energy helps get me focused.

After retrieving my swim-cap from the car and making my way to the lake to get suited up, I notice that I am a bit behind. Almost everyone is already gathered for the pre-race meeting and separating into their waves.

I quickly get lubed up & into my wetsuit, pray with my hubby and then wade out into the water to test my cap/goggle positioning and fill the suit for buoyancy. Everything seems good, the water is calm & warm. A few waves are released then I navigate my way towards others in white swim caps noting that none of them are near my age. I am in the final wave of the half iron distance and it's an odd mix of whatever age groups were left over.

Swim 1.2 Miles| Time 42:38
- :11 from '09 race

Finally it is our turn. 5...4...3...2...1... We are a lively bunch, cheering wildly as we charge into the water.

The first 100 yards are smooth, then the boxing match begins. My feet are stroked, my torso bumped. Any rhythm I had going is disappointingly thrown off. As I pop up to sight making sure I am not the one zig-zagging and bumping into people I notice that the buoy to indicate our turn-around is beyond my sight. Doubt begins to grip me like the weeds uprooted by other swimmers now gathering around my neck. If I don't find my calm again, this is going to be a long 1.2 miles. If the swim takes too long I wont finish the bike in time and they wont let me continue onto the run, all I want is to make it to the run. Prayers/Scripture start swirling in my mind & I eventually hand my doubt over.

When I alternate to breathe on the left side I see a yellow buoy, while a little bummed it is for the olympic distance turn-around, this means I am getting close to ours. I zig-zag a bit but manage to line up perfectly for the turn-around, rounding the buoy. The wind kicks up a bit and I am unable to breathe to the left from this point onward, the smell of gas burning off of the boat motors is horrendous.

Knowing I only have a 1/2mile left I tell myself "chin down, like in jiu-jitsu." and like that my rhythm is back. I start gaining on other swimmers in my wave and other weaker swimmers from the previous wave. Then the olympic distance swimmers & half iron course merge, the olys are fast and even though I am passed this pushes me to go faster. In the last 300 yards I cycle through my mental check-list of what I need to do in T1 over & over.

T1 | Time 2:41
-0:01 from '09 race

At last I reach the shore. I have been laying face down for 40+ minutes making standing, then running out of the water & up the stairs to the transition area pretty disorienting. It feels like my body is buried in a thick fog, legs are heavy, but I manage to keep my head and easily spot the pirate flag where my bike is. My cheering crew encourages me as I transition. The air is cool & refreshing. I feel good.

Bike 56 Miles | Time 3:17:45 | 17mph Avg.
-00:05:08 from '09 race
Fuel| 2 Perpetuem Bottles, 1 HEED bottle & 1 Pkg. of Sport Beans

Glancing down at my Garmin I see the time and know I was close to goal time on my swim keeping me on track to make it back in time for the run. Miles begin to pass & my bottle of Perpetuem has never tasted so good. Dry-mouth was an issue during the swim. It is an odd sensation being thirsty and engulfed by water at the same time.

My mind is focused on fueling & recovering from the swim making the first 15-20miles go by without much thought. A lot of cyclists pass me in the first 20miles. I am not a strong cyclist so this doesn't bother me, but is rather expected. Words of encouragement are exchanged as they quickly move out of drafting distance and I continue on.

Having spent literally 1/2 the time on the bike training in comparison to last year, I knew 56 miles would be rough, but I had tested my self several weeks ago on a 54 mile ride just to make sure I could still do it & I could. It was hard, but I did it. Today I had the energy & adrenaline to push me along and I would ride that roller coaster hill after hill after hill.

Memory had been kind in letting me forget a lot of the hills along the course, but one still stood out in my mind from last year. My heart rate redlined & it took a ton of effort to climb, making me utterly exhausted at the top. The looped course meant climbing this twice. 26ish miles into the bike, I was face to face with it. This time it was different, all of the hills leading up to this one only helped cement my technique and my quads dominated. I actually passed a few people on uphills. When I reached "Everest" it was still difficult, but I was able to charge up it and my heart-rate quickly recovered at the top.

At mile 32 things started to get tough. The groups of cyclists had now thinned out rolling along at their various paces. I could hear no one behind me and barely see the next person ahead. Energy was starting to lull and the hills were starting to take their toll. My average pace started to tick down from 17.2 to 17.1 to 17.0, I wasn't about to let go of a 17mph so I started fighting & fighting hard. My brain & body separated and the internal juke-box started to take over looping thru choruses of the BEPs, "Eye of the Tiger" (Think Sam & Dean, not Rocky) & Sandstorm.

Around mile 40 a familiar car pulled along side me & I looked over to see Jeremy, Maggie & Cory. Energy was starting to peak back up again, seeing them only added to this. I shouted out my stats and told them that I was doing great with only 12 miles left to go, not knowing then that I had misread one of the mile markers.

As I split on to the final leg of the bike course, I am greeted with a headwind. Still battling with everything I had to keep up the pace, I tell myself to ignore it and try to hang on. I would make up the time when I met the turn-around and would then have a tail-wind. Then the skies opened. My tires began kicking up spray all over my backside & my sunglasses started to blur.

Then I remembered just how long the last 10 miles of the bike felt last year, again memory had been too kind. There was no avoiding this. When it felt like I had biked 5miles the mile markers would tell me I had only biked two. The wind would blast, rain would whip & my energy was depleting. It's times like these that running 5 miles feels faster than biking them, but the run would come soon enough.

Those last 10miles were some of the hardest & most inspiring bike miles of my life. I called out to my God for strength & knew without question He heard me. If energy would not come, that was okay, I will give thanks to God in all things. My doubt already handed over, I asked for strength just to race & race well and to glorify Him in some way as the miles passed.

T2 |Time 3:30
+1:48 from '09 race

Entering T2 I was thoroughly soaked for the second time. Rain continued to fall steady as I stripped out of my riding gear into my running gear. My toes were tensed up & balled together making it a struggle to pocket them into the toes of my VFFs. I was exhausted & knew it was best to be patient with myself instead of rush & not do it right so I took more time than planned. Temps were in the low 60s, but I opted to go without my running tank as it would only be added weight when drenched & I didn't want to fuss with it. Then I was off on the run...

Run 13.1 Miles | Time 2:10:23 | Pace 9:57
-00:21:20 from '09 race
Fuel| 4 Hammer Gels & 1 pkg. Sport Beans

Making my way onto the run course I exchanged a few words of encouragement with another runner. She too had been waiting for the run, it was her prime sport, easily evident as she quickly distanced from me.

In the spring I had focused a lot of training on transitioning from the bike to the run. I knew the shin splints & gnarled calf muscles would subside, but it didn't make those first 3miles any easier.

To add insult to injury my bladder decided it couldn't wait another 10 miles, so I found myself for the first time ever using a porta-john during an event. Being able to sit those few moments was a nice reprieve, but I had to get back out there & I did.

Fueling was going well, but carrying the gel flask became an issue. I am used to running with a pack, but had decided to go light with a hand bottle & put the flask into the tiny pocket of my tri-shorts. It started to bounce & I started to get annoyed, so it got shoved into the universal pocket between the ta-tas. This caused a lot of strange looks & laughs from oncoming runners already on their way back from the turn-around, but I could've cared less. You do what you have to do.

The shin-splints & calves finally loosened roughly 5miles in. The 1-2 ft swath of grass beside the running path made for beautiful footing as I pushed to run smooth. If any time was going to be cut I knew it had to be during the run. My pace hadn't been bad in the last five miles, but I wanted to do better.

At the turn-around all I wanted was some music, but there would be none. With only a little over a 10k left, I told myself that this race would be exactly what I wanted it to be & with the words in one of Dean Karnases' books "It's supposed to hurt like hell." fresh on my mind I started to pick up the pace. My body cried out to walk, not because of pain, but because the exhaustion was so high.

Then I started to get annoyed by the kind aid-station workers offering me fuel. This has never happened to me before. Four people in a line all asking me if I wanted to same thing & I having to answer them was more energy than I had to extend. So I began yelling out a stern "no" as I entered a station and trying to make up for it by saying things like "thanks for being here. I appreciate it". Seeing people was nice, but I just wanted to get to the finish.

At mile 8 I was done with the flask & had started to chafe where it rubbed against my chest so I threw it away. Anything that wasn't vital to me finishing wasn't going to be carried.

My body while still calling out to walk would only be allowed when I had to pee. And pee I did, at least 6 times in the final 5 miles. Bathrooms were hard to come by & the rain was still pouring down so I learned something I never thought I'd do, pee on the go. This stung the sores on my feet that were beginning to form from areas where the VFFs were rubbing, but I pushed that behind me knowing that I could hurt when I was done, but not now.

Miles 9-11 I spent with my eyes closed roughly 40% of the time. It was the only way I could zone out & still run swift. Thankfully the VFFs made it easy to tell if I was swerving off course. The internal juke-box switched on again looping thru everything from Techno to Enya, sometimes both at once. My mind was an interesting place to be.

Reaching the campground with only a mile to go I started to lay the hammer down. The smell of the smoke from burnig campfires wasn't going to deter me. I was going to finish strong.

I made my way down the final slope of the course & saw a man in red. From that point on all I wanted to do was beat the man in red. I waited until I was within a long sprinting distance of the finish and began hauling. One stride at a time, one breath at a time, counting to ten & then starting again.

He didn't see what was coming, I passed quickly and gained quite the lead. There would be no catching up. Then I saw the gate & sprinted out everything I had left to cross the FINISH in 6:16:53 resulting in a -00:25:06 PR!!!

I left the race that day 100% spent, 100% joyful & 100% ready to take on the next endeavor. T-minus 68 days until Lean Horse.