Archive for July, 2008

July 14-20 Training

My summer race, the Buckeye Trail 50K, is “FINISH“ed. What a day and incredible experience. I am sure I learned much more through the training and race day than I even realize at this moment, and look forward to sharing a full report here very soon.

July 14-20

Monday – 5 easy (road)

Tuesday – 6 easy (road/path)

Wednesday – 13 miles cycling

Thursday – 5 miles (trail)

Friday – 1 hour yoga class

Saturday – 32 miles (Buckeye Trail)

Sunday – 10 miles recovery cycling (very easy pace and low resistance)

Totals: 48 miles running, 23 miles cycling, 1 yoga session

Good stuff: Accomplishing a goal and feeling good almost the whole 50K, the inspiration, learning, and company of much more experienced ultrarunners along the way.

Stuff to keep an eye on: Like last week and probably to continue next week, manage stress in a healthy way while moving and setting up in a new state.

Goals for the week: Squeeze shorter daily runs in for continued recovery and stress relief.


The Blue Blaze Beckons

This Saturday is the 15th running of the Buckeye Trail 50K, a rugged trail endurance run out and back on approximately 16 of the 1,444 miles of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail. Painted blue blazes mark the way, and have become a welcome sight on training runs I’ve done there over the past month.

The race began as an informal, low-key type run and has evolved into a popular event now organized by Vertical Runner. This year’s installment sold out early at 175 entrants. 

Group training runs on segments of the course have been beneficial and, I believe, will allow for a more relaxed race day. As I explore trail running and ultra-running, I know I have so much more to learn, but thanks to practice and great instruction from more experienced runners am starting to get the hang of the differences in running technique, pacing, and fueling. There are a lot of times when I feel awkward and wobbly, but also increasing sections where I find a groove and feel like I’m (slowly) dancing over the dirt and roots. Either way, I love the sights, sounds, smells, and peaceful feeling of trail running, and know I will keep seeking trail time well after tomorrow.

It looks like race day will offer a relatively fast, dry trail, but the added challenge of a hot day. I’m as ready as I can be save for the threat of a cold, and looking forward to putting all the new skills I’ve been practicing to the test.

Making “The Bear” Bear-able

Event: The Bear 5-Mile Run
Where & When:7 p.m. Thursday, July 10, Linville NC
Results: 57:05 (watch)/57:14 (official), 445 of 819 finishers

Last spring, my boyfriend Lloyd invited me to spend time at a friend’s family cabin in Western NC during the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, which mixes feats of mountain endurance athleticism along with traditional Scottish games. Living a cultural and topographic world away on the other side of the state, I excitedly accepted. He mentioned a five-mile race called The Bear. “You’re doing it,” he said. A 5-miler? No sweat. Cool. In the middle of training for the Boston Marathon, I gave a measly five miles little thought.

A few months later, I had time to realize and think about the exact location of those five little miles:

Grandfather Mountain, Elevation 5,964 feet

Grandfather Mountain, Elevation 5,964 feet

By now Boston and its rigorous Newton Hills were behind me, and this life-long flatlander started to realize what I was up against. Five miles straight of Heartbreak Hill, but steeper and at higher elevation. Normally I look forward to races. After all, I voluntarily sign up, pay money, and train to do them. But now I began to profoundly, earnestly, dread The Bear. I had no doubt that I could complete the run, but also harbored no delusions about the pain and suffering involved in reaching the finish.

We arrived in beautiful Boone the day before the race. Friends offered to drive us to Grandfather Mountain. “No thanks, I’d rather not see it,” I said. When I did catch a glimpse of its peak, which resembles the profile of a bearded old man, it seemed unfathomable that any human could actually run up it. Yet the race’s winners do in 30 minutes and change.

As Thursday dawned, I grew more apprehensive and nervous. “I’d rather do a 100 mile run than The Bear,” I moaned. “I feel like I’m headed off to the guillotine.”I jokingly warned Lloyd that I would be looking for him at the finish, with a few choice words. OK, occasionally my dramatic streak comes out.

We loaded up and headed to the Start, arriving with plenty of time to contemplate our sorry fates, er, warm up. Lloyd dashed off to do just that. Rather than loosen my legs, I jogged to a nearby convenience store with Lloyd’s equally nervous running buddy Denine. We proceeded to interrogate our restroom line-mates who were Bear veterans, getting a good preview and a little reassurance in the process.

The weather was cooperative, at least. It had rained all day, but precipitation ceased and the sun shone brightly upon the crowd of 800+ fools, er, runners poised at base camp. The starting gun fired. It missed me, so I had no choice but to amble forward.

My entire “race” plan was to minimize misery. Normally I do not race with a heart-rate monitor, but I wore one this evening so I could try to keep my heart rate below red line. My other cue to watch was breathing. I wanted to feel like I could breathe the whole time. Almost immediately after starting, my heart rate climbed into Tempo pace (8:00-8:15 min/miles) zone as my feet trudged at slower than recovery pace. The first mile was a controlled 11:20. It is actually difficult for me to run at this pace, but it allowed me to breathe and feel as relaxed as possible.

“Pant, pant, pant,” all the otherwise silent runners huffed and puffed their way up. There was no usual joking or chatter. At one point someone exclaimed, “How the hell would anyone actually prepare for this?!,” but otherwise we saved our precious breath.

Miles 2 and 3 nearly matched my first in pace, although my heart rate now equaled my mile repeat heart-rate zone (7:30-7:40 min/mile) of about 170 BPM. Since I was controlling my effort somewhat, I was able to appreciate the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain vistas that met our eyes when we exited a wooded dirt road in the second mile. We were definitely climbing a mountain! Every so often, road signs ordered “No Walking.” “I’ll try not to,” I said to myself.

Mid-way, the course all too briefly flattens out as runners pass through the decked-out Highland Games campsite and competition field. We were greeted by tartan-clad clapping spectators, Scottish family crest flags, and bagpipe music as we were pampered with half a lap on the track. I took advantage of the fleeting flatness and picked up my pace to actual 5-mile race pace for the 200 yards, passing about 10 runners. Maybe that wasn’t too sportsmanlike, but it was a welcome break from trudging.

Immediately after the track, a steep grassy hill continues the course. I walked for the first time, but back on the road continued slowly running even as the course grew steeper and more winding. Now I was bargaining with myself. Just run to the turn and then decide if you want to walk. OK, now run to the next turn, then you can walk if you want.

Like an evil, venomous serpent, the road uncoiled upward. When my run became an involuntary march, I turned on my speed walking muscles and walked for intervals. I found I was actually faster and could easily pass people while walking. I wasn’t running The Bear competitively, but made it a game to try to “catch” the person in front of me whenever I walked. To my surprise, it worked very well. Like everyone else around me, I alternated walking and running through the fourth mile (12:30).

“No Walking,” the sign said again. “‘F— you!” I thought now.

After several minutes of begging, I approached the Mile 4 sign. From here, the switchbacks grow tighter and course steepens even more to the summit. I looked at runners still zig-zagging high above and thought “that is just F—ing sick!”

At this point I spotted Lloyd standing on a rock mid-way up the switchbacks. He had finished the race and was now cheering runners on and taking photos. From below, I pointed at him and shook my fist, pretending to be furious. Really I was happy to see him, especially since he willingly re-traced the final ascent for a second time when he began running by my side.

The approach to the summit includes the mountain hairpin turn featured in the film Forrest Gump.

We climbed together and I finally pushed beyond the red line as I ran harder and breathed harder, encouraged by the spectators now lining the course. It was an unforgettable sight to look up and see people yelling and clapping along the final steep incline to the summit. Funny how a clicking camera, crowd, and company work. My last mile to the finish was run in 9:49, the fastest by far.

Immediately after finishing, discomfort turned to relief. The dreaded Bear was done, with no higher ground to cover. I had survived and met my goal of avoiding self-induced misery. Clouds rolled back in, so there was a strange sensation of being in the sky. We lingered at the top, crossing an unstable feeling swinging bridge, comparing Bear tales, and exploring a bit before catching a shuttle back to base camp.

The mile-high swinging bridge on the mountains peak is the closest Ive been to skywalking.

The mile-high swinging bridge on the mountain's peak is the closest I've been to skywalking.

July 7-13 Training

Travel, taper, and terrain sum up this training week. My mileage dropped by about 50 percent due to two long travel days. Hopefully that extra rest will help me be extra ready to tackle the toughest 32 miles I’ve ever traversed this Saturday. While running declined, elevation spiked. My near-lifetime of flatland-dwelling was painfully obvious in mountainous Appalachia.

Grandfather Mountain near Linville, N.C.

Grandfather Mountain near Linville, N.C.

July 7-13

Monday –  5 easy (road)

Tuesday – 8.5 easy (road/Metroparks path)

Wednesday —  Traveled to Western NC

Thursday —  The Bear 5-Mile Hill Climb

Friday – 1 hour easy hike in Asheville, NC

Saturday — 10 easy (track)

Sunday — Rest day; traveled to Pittsburgh

Totals:  28.5 miles running, ~2 miles hiking

Good stuff: Surviving The Bear! Memorable miles and time spent in Western North Carolina, one of my favorite places. A stop in the ‘Burgh on the way from Boone to Cleveland reunited me with childhood friend Andrew along with his wife and sister-in-law, both inspiring medal-winning athletes, at the U.S. Transplant Games.

Stuff to keep an eye on: Even welcome changes for the better can cause disarray. With a long-distance move and new job looming, managing stress will be crucial. 

Goals for the week: Give my very best and have fun running in the Buckeye Trail 50K, and then celebrate a new accomplishment.

Text And The Trail

Buckeye Trail after all-night rain

Forty minutes into the woods, well before the planned turn-around point, I abruptly stopped in front of this. Four days earlier, it was soft creek bed with a shallow puddle here and there. Easily passable.

To my neophyte trail-running self, I was now poised in front of the raging, rushing River Styx.

My first impulse was, “OK, adjust plans. Go back 40 minutes to the start and either do a shorter out and back from there repeating this section, or continue for a bit on the next section of the 50K course.”

Immediately, I questioned that. I don’t know much about traversing trails, but I do know that my default is to be overly cautious on them and that I am not naturally nimble. Just a few years ago I busted open both knees when I tripped on the pancake-flat, smooth, easily navigable C & O Towpath. My rear end still has a faint bruise from a spill I took on a much less challenging trail in January.

I wondered what my more experienced ultrarunning friends and mentors like Lloyd and Meredith would do. It occurred to me that I could ask. I pulled out my phone, snapped a photo, and beamed it over to Lloyd.

“Am I supposed to cross this?!?”

“Yes! Don’t wash away.”

“Uhh … here goes nothing.”

I talk to myself a lot on the trail, and launched into a motivational monologue. “OK … you’re just going to do this. Pretend you’re at the beach wading through the surf. This is part of trail running. You might have to do this in the race. What is the worst that could happen? You slip and ruin your cell phone. Hmm, that would be really inconvenient. I hope that doesn’t happen. I won’t let that happen!”

With the new mission to preserve my phone, I plunged a leg into the calf-high creek. It wasn’t deep, but the water was moving and I couldn’t see what I was putting my feet into. Tentatively and slowly, I wobbled across, letting my feet explore the rocks and holes as if they had eyes. I pictured a great photo taken of Lloyd mid-creek during his successful 100-mile run attempt. He strides confidently, leaning forward, his skilled posture announcing, “I am parting these waters!”

Then I tried to picture how I looked at that moment. Unsure, unbalanced, with arms and fingers splayed out Karate Kid-style for balance, as if I could grab the air to steady myself. Had I not been concentrating so hard on avoiding a spontaneous swim, I would have laughed out loud at the image.

A few hesitant steps later, my feet reappeared before me on the wet, muddy bank.

My phone had survived the crossing bone dry, so I pried it out of my shorts pocket to let Lloyd know of my safe passage. I tried to sound nonchalant.

“Not so bad.”

Having got my feet wet with water crossings, there was nothing else to do but continue forward.

June 30-July 6 Training

This was peak training week for the Buckeye Trail 50K, a new skill and distance challenge I decided on for a summer race. In terms of mileage, 50K training doesn’t vary much from the marathon training I’ve done for my last three marathons. The differences are bunching more mileage up for back to back longer weekend runs, more time on trails, and little speedwork if any. I have loosely followed this plan, formulated by the handy training spreadsheet tool on the Santa Clarita Runners website.

June 30-July 4

Monday –  Rest

Tuesday — 7 fartlek (track), 1.5 mile easy hike

Wednesday —  Traveled to NE Ohio, 8.4 (trail)

Thursday —  9.25 (trail)

Friday – Easy 7 miles cycling, upper body weights, pilates

Saturday — 7 easy (road)

Sunday — 23 long (trail)

Totals:  ~  54 miles running (40 trail/14 road or track), 1.5 miles hiking, 7 miles cycling, 1 each weights, pilates sessions

Good stuff: With about 9 hours of running it during this peak training week, I started feeling much more comfortable on the Buckeye Trail. Thanks to midweek shorter runs on the course, drier conditions, and much better fueling, I completed this week’s long run 75 seconds faster per mile. If I could do that again on race day, it would be a dream day for me. Most of all I had a lot of fun as a trail newbie, rather than frustration or discouragement.

Stuff to keep an eye on: I know I ran through poison oak on Sunday, so I keep checking my legs for an emerging reaction.

Goals for the week: Survive, er, summit The Bear, a 5-mile uphill run up Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina. 

’08 is Still Great!

Tuesday marked the mid-point of 2008 and the six-month anniversary of this nook of the Internet I like to call my cyberspot. Riding a high of accomplishing a two-year running goal and a reunion of sorts with myself, I intended to infuse extra positive momentum and great expectations into 2008. From its beginning, In The Distance was a little part of that plan. It’s been even more satisfying and fun than I imagined to record the days here, and I appreciate that a few people have taken time to read and comment.

Looking back to the start of the year, I feel like I have been reborn into an emerging new world of deepening friendship, travel to unfamiliar locations, my first Boston Marathon and ultramarathon distance completed, and fund-raising and professional goals met.

Running-wise, since Boston I’ve barely had a run I was happy with performance- and pace-wise, and races have been mediocre at best in terms of finish time. I won’t pretend I wear such deeply-shaded rose-colored glasses that I’m ignorantly blissful of this, but I believe frustration and self-criticism only compound a slump. After two years of almost singular goal-work and improvement a lull is natural, and I am practicing patience and consistent mileage as I look forward to another growth period. Moving forward at a slightly slower pace is still infinitely preferable to not being able to participate.

I dream of a satisfying effort in a difficult trail 50K in *gulp* two weeks, and switching gears to cover distances faster again this fall. Occasionally I let myself fantasize about moving forward for many more miles, both in one single run and for decades. I will focus on the combination of self-care and a little luck to be so fortunate.

At work, I’ll begin a new position in a few short weeks. Between relocating and teaching three new courses fall semester at a new-to-me college, I anticipate being almost as busy as when I started in the classroom full-time four years earlier. Thankfully, I have those years under my belt to help. Experience has taught me that you can’t begin to know a place without living there, but I am optimistic that I am heading in the right direction both geographically and culturally.

Although it always feels great to get on the mat, my physical yoga practice is probably the least frequent and weakest it has been in half a decade. I am beyond excited to be moving somewhere with several good yoga studios within walking distance instead of an hour’s drive away. On the other hand, I’ve been blessed to experience the mental benefits of regular meditation practice. They are immeasurably helpful during situations that previously would have tested my empathy and admittedly limited patience.

Even with the gifts of yoga and good fortune, I’m far from perfect. That’s not the point. But in case this entry is taking on the tone of a holiday brag letter, suffice to say there are several areas where I currently lack needed discipline and continue to look for answers.

Most importantly of all, I aspire to end 2008 feeling I’ve contributed my best each day, and closer to cherished ones in every sense of the word. My best intentions remain fixed on that.