The Trail Mixers take on Ragnar Trail Cascades

I wasn’t sure how the race weekend would play out — after all, while my teammates and everyone else would be running and tackling elevation climbing, I’d just be captaining, race volunteering and walking. No running for this injured runner.
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Ragnar Trail Cascades was cancelled due to forest fires last year. It was a brand new race and we were all excited to run and participate. My team decided to transfer our race entry over to this year’s race. This time I’m sidelined with a stress fracture. (I may just be forever cursed to never actually run this race!)

It’s an all-day/all-night trail relay race where teams of eight people complete a total of 132.8 trail miles. Each person runs three legs of three marked loops. Your campsite is your home base, not a stinky van like the road Ragnar races.

Even though I couldn’t personally run, I had a good time.
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The race started Friday and I kicked off our team by speed-walking the first (easy) 2.7-mile leg. It kind of felt like the walk of shame as I took off from the start/finish/transition area, so I jogged my way out and then started walking once I turned the corner.

Good news, my knee did not hurt at all from this 10-20 step slow jog!

My team didn’t allow ourselves enough time to check-in/actually arrive two hours before our race start time, so the rest of my teammates were unloading our car and setting up camp as I walked. The course was very well marked and easy to navigate (in the daylight at least!)
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I felt a little weird when other runners passed me enthusiastically saying “Nice job!” since I was just walking. But, I tried not to read too much into it. And, I always stepped off to the side to allow them to easily pass me. I did surprisingly end up getting one kill (Ragnar terms for passing another runner) so there’s that!

I finished my loop a little after 12 noon and there was a bit of confusion with our transition as I had to rush out of the transition tent and find my team/tell Joanna it was her turn to run. I guess I walked faster than we all anticipated, which was evident by my glutes kind of being sore the next day!

Bryce and Andrew picked up my two other legs. So yes, they ran four total legs rather than the normal three. (Huge props, and thank-yous to them!)

Many of my teammates said the red (hardest 7-mile loop) was the most fun and better than the short one. One of my teammates ran along side a cow “pacer” at one point. No one from my team had any falls or injuries, so I’d call that a pretty successful run. We also lucked out and finished Saturday morning right before it started to rain!

Also, small brag: We finished 13th overall with very little to no training! Our total time was 22 hours 27 minutes (and 27 seconds).
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We had packed some card games, and I even packed a book since I wasn’t running, but honestly there really wasn’t much “down time” as you would expect. Most of us had done road relays where you have to drive from point-to-point so we expected this race to be a little less intense in that sense.

Yes, not driving was great! But, you still had to keep an eye on time and make sure you didn’t miss your next runner coming into the transition area. My one friend/teammate Brent put it best: It’s like you’re all in one van so there’s no time to rest! (Those who have done a road relay will understand his comment).

My volunteer time in the transition tent Friday afternoon was really fun (and dusty!) Although I had to touch many sweaty wrists to remove slap bands indicating the loop the runner had just completed, I was happy to help. And, it was fun seeing some of my teammates start/finish as well as strangers. I tried not to think too much into “how great it was for everyone to be running” and “poor me for not being able to run.”
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I’m not sure if all my friends would want to do this race again just because they would be running the exact same loops again (obviously unless the race course were updated). But, I am definitely looking forward to either actually running this trail relay in the future or fully participating in another one. Oahu Trail Ragnar 2018, anyone??

Anchorage Marathon: Hilly, Lonely but Beautiful

I have never walked during a marathon. I’ve always been in the “just keep running, even if it’s barely a jog”-camp. During the Anchorage Marathon, I walked five times—that I remember!

It wasn’t my prettiest race, but it was the prettiest marathon I’ve done.

For someone who was debating whether or not to even do the full marathon or drop down to the half marathon due to my IT band/knee injury two weeks ago, I’m proud with how it turned out: that I finished.

The Beginning: Running Together

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In my head, the game plan was to stick with Joanna until the half-way point. Before my knee injury fiasco (now about a month ago,) our goal had always been to run a sub-4 hour time together. This would mean our pace would be at about 9 minute/mile. We’ve trained and have completed three marathons together in the past. This would be no different, except this time we would reach that time goal.

I knew running 9’s the entire race would be pushing it for my poor left knee. That’s why my personal goal was to stick with Joanna until the half and just see how I feel from there on out.

However, that’s not what happened.

It was perfect race weather at the start. Sunny, but not too hot. We were running in the Last Frontier, surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges! We saw Bryce, his mom, and Joanna’s boyfriend Dan at about the 4-mile mark. I was feeling good. My knee didn’t hurt, except for a “funny feeling” behind the knee. (To note, I had never experienced any sort of feeling behind the knee before. It felt stiff).

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Joanna and I waved at our fans, going stride for stride together. After we passed them, we took on a short hill on a road that we were running.

Eventually we met up with a gravel trail. It was mile 6 and this is when Joanna mentioned she didn’t feel “quite right.” I asked her if it was her stomach but she said it was more like she just felt like she didn’t have any energy. We kept on running together but our 9 minute pace dropped to 9:30, then 10.

This isn’t good, I thought to myself. I told Joanna that at the next aid station, she should take the energy drink (despite it tasting like medicine when we took a swig of it at a prior aid station).

At the mile 9 (I think) aid station, Joanna took a cup of energy drink and stopped to walk and drink. I stopped to take a rock out of my shoe.

If we aren’t going to PR together, we may as well run slowly together.

But then Joanna decided that she actually needed to take a walking break.

“You go on ahead,” she said.

I asked her if she was sure and that it didn’t really matter because it wasn’t like I was going to PR in this state. She insisted. She said it would make her feel worse if I stayed back with her.

“Ok, see you at the finish,” I said as we high-fived each other.

The Middle: Running Worried

After I went off on my own, I picked up the pace. I got back down to 9’s and kept at that pace. My knee didn’t hurt but felt tender. Even though my physical therapist told me this wasn’t going to be a PR race, it didn’t mean I couldn’t give it my all, right? (I hope she’s not reading this!)

Two Team In Training coaches found me a little after mile 9 and mile 10. The first coach ran with me just for what felt like a few seconds but I didn’t mind because I felt “relatively good.” I told her I was more worried about my friend and teammate, Joanna, and if she could keep a look out for her. The second coach I came across ran with me for a bit longer. We chatted a bit and I also told him to look out for Joanna. He assured me that he would.

I was still running on the gravel trail and there were some rolling hills. Nothing too horrible. The sun felt a little stronger but I kept going on. I wasn’t sure where I would see my cheer squad next but it was around mile 13 and I was so happy to see them.

I’m not one to stop during a race when I see my friends/family cheering for me but I did this time. Bryce told me to keep walking so I walked with him as I told him what happened to Joanna. I wanted to stop and hang with them longer, I wasn’t tired but felt bummed to be running by myself when Joanna was struggling.

I didn’t know this because I wasn’t paying too much attention to my Garmin, but Bryce says I was still on pace to sub-4 at the half-way point.

The Second Half: The Ugly Miles

It’s getting kind of hard for me to remember everything.

The course took us from the gravel trail to actual mountain dirt trails. As I slowly jogged up a hill, I cursed under my breath that this wasn’t supposed to be a trail race, despite looking and feeling like one. I took a pit stop at a porta-potty around mile 14 or 15.

At mile 16, I started experiencing actual IT band pain. I pushed through.

Then at mile 18 it started hurting significantly more, although the pain shifted from the IT band (so outer side of my knee) to the knee cap.

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I saw my cheer squad for the final time at mile 18. The course was now along a major road. I stopped running while they cheered and took photos and encouraged me.

“Can I just wait here for Joanna?” I pleaded to them. “I’ll just wait here so I can run with Joanna.”

Bryce and Dan told me to keep on going, that Joanna was at least 10 minutes behind me. (Little did we know that she was more like 30 minutes or more behind me). Bryce told me that the first Team In Training marathoner was just “a ways” in front of me. He told me I could still catch him if I tried. Then I could be the first Team In Training finisher, he exclaimed.

“Do it for Jo!” Dan added.

Bryce filled up my water bottle and I went on my way. I wasn’t really that serious on catching the guy since he was no where in sight, but I guess I could keep running.

However, from mile 19 on, I was in a lot of pain. Not only did my knee hurt, my legs were shot. I suppose the last four weeks of limited running due to my injury had caught up to me. I felt out of shape.

Everyone around me appeared to be in pain as well. It felt like a zombie death march to the finish. We were now away from the road and on a concrete bike path. I tried to stay on the side of the path where the surface was softer. Maybe it would alleviate the pain in my knee. It didn’t.

There was an aid station at mile 21.95 but prior to it there was a small incline. This was the first time I walked. I walked 10 steps. I know this because I counted. Then when I arrived at the aid station, I stopped and walked to the porta-potty. I didn’t really have to pee but I wanted an excuse to rest.

Another Team coach was waiting for me. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I hurt. I forget what she said back to me. She gave me a salt tablet. I continued on.

Mile 21.95 to 26 were lonely and slow. They made me question why I decided to do the full. But, they also gave me time to reflect on all the people who helped me get to this point. I thought about all my fellow teammates who were also running or had finished their races in Seattle that same day. Thinking about all these people made me feel better, but I was still in a lot of pain.

The Finish: The Cruel, Cruel Finish

I knew going into this race that there was a hill “right before the finish.” What I didn’t know was that there would be THREE hills right before the finish. I’m talking less than a mile before the finish and that last hill is literally RIGHT BEFORE THE CHUTE.

If I had cried during any point of the race, it would have been at this point. But, I was too tired. I decided to take the trail runner’s racing mentality and walked up the first hill, and then second hill and even that last hill. No one around me was running up these beasts.

As soon as I walked to the top of the third and final hill, I could see the finish. The cheering became louder and my infamous kick came through. I sprinted through the finish chute and somehow managed to smile. I smiled because I was doing it. I was about to finish my race. I smiled because my coaches told us all to smile at the finish and I try my best to be obedient!

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I sprinted past a few people right at the end. It was finally over.

I walked through the rest of the chute and came up to a table and immediately took three dixie cups of water. It was like taking shots, but of water. I received my medal and my finisher’s shirt.

My friends Alex and Liz found me right away. Liz had done the half marathon. And my Team In Training mentor, Marie, also came up and congratulated me. I immediately started unloading all of my stuff (water bottle, medal, etc.) to my friends. I took off my race bib to hand off to someone.

As eager as I was to finish that race, I was to go back into it. I had to go back out to run Joanna back into the finish. We could still finish together.

But then the worst part of the race occurred. Alex or someone else told me Joanna wasn’t going to finish. She had dropped out.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. 

My heart sank and felt heavy. I was tired and felt even more defeated.

We went back to the mile 19 mark, where Joanna’s race ended, to pick her up. She had been throwing up on the course and eventually had to stop. A stomach bug she had the week before was apparently still with her.

This race just wasn’t meant to be. If my knee had been fully functioning, it wouldn’t have felt like a victory if I reached my goal time but Joanna didn’t even finish. And, I can’t imagine she would have felt good racing a PR if I came in with my slowest marathon time ever. (Yes, that’s what happened in Anchorage, I clocked in at 4:27:53, which is my slowest time out of 8 marathons completed).

I have more races left in me. I’m not going anywhere. Joanna and I have many more miles to train and race together.

Also, everyone told me going into this race how Anchorage is a net downhill race. It did not feel like that! Even if I had been healthy, this would have been a darn hard course to PR.

But, this race was never about PR’ing, even though sub-4 is a goal I have had for a few years now. This race wasn’t even about finishing.

Joanna and I raised ~$7,000* together with the help of friends, family, teammates, colleagues and strangers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is money that will go directly to blood cancer patients and research. We had a pretty solid marathon training cycle (minus my injury at the end).

I’m proud that we did all that and showed up to the race.

This one’s for you, Natalie.


*The ~ is because money is still coming in through some company matches. Thank you to all who donated and supported us! 

Chuckanut 50K: My first ultra

IMG_5113It’s been six days, but it feels like the race was weeks ago.

I was pretty nervous and anxious going into the race. Bryce was also racing the Chuckanut 50K so he was there to keep me cool, calm and (sort of) collected. I was overwhelmed by support and words of encouragement from family and friends who texted and tweeted me the night before race day — and even up until when I was literally standing at the start line. Since I was running with my hydration pack, I was able to see those up-to-the minute well wishes.

I felt the love. I felt ready for my first ultra marathon.

The beginning

This race, which starts in Bellingham, draws about 300 runners. Bryce and I settled in the back since we didn’t want to get tripped up in the front and we didn’t care to start out fast. The course really funnels into a narrow trail at the beginning so we were going slower than I would have liked (10 minute pace) but I knew that the 6 miles of pretty-much-flat into the “Chuckanut mountain area” was my time to just take it easy before the steep climbs ahead.

I ran into another Oiselle teammate, Elisa, about two miles into the race. We didn’t know each other prior to the race but it was nice to meet another teammate who was also doing her first 50K race! We continued along at an easy conversational pace and passed the first aid station at mile 6.3 without stopping.

The beginning switchbacks weren’t too bad for me since Bryce and I had practiced (most of) the course. I separated from Elisa and up and up I went. (She would later find me at the halfway point looking very energetic and strong and continuing on!) By the second aid station at mile 10.5, I stopped and took some electrolyte drink (I only carry water with me because I like plain water with my gels) and some pretzels. I knew that up next was the gradual, and very long climb up the forest service road. While this section of the course seemed to take “forever” when I practiced it, it wasn’t so bad race day. Since it was still early on in the race, there were a ton of other runners around me. Several seasoned ultra runners started chatting with me. We, of course, talked about running. We walked when it would get super steep and run when it leveled out a bit. I was happy to know I was among other motivated, fun and friendly people!

By the third aid station at mile 13.4, I knew that the ridge run was next. The Chuckanut Ridge was the hardest part for me when practicing because it’s pretty technical terrain with lots of rocks, roots, etc. A few times throughout this part, I voluntarily let runners behind me pass by. I wanted to go at my own pace without feeling rushed. I didn’t want to trip and fall. It was good to see Elisa again, looking strong. I, on the other hand, was feeling, uh, uncomfortable — because I had to pee.

The middle

I just felt like there was no good non-open area to pop a squat on this part of the course. I carefully continued on the trail. The ridge was also easier than I remembered from before. I think it had to do with the good trail conditions. It hadn’t rained the several days before, so there was hardly any mud and the rocks were also dry. I was able to traverse this part quicker than when I practiced!

Finally around mile 16 I was not only uncomfortably running because I had to pee, I also started getting a very painful sideache. I hardly ever get sideaches so I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I would probably feel better after relieving myself. I was off the ridge now and another runner caught up to me. I asked him if anyone else was nearby. “In front of us or behind us?” he asked me, looking confused. “Oh, behind us. I have to pee but this is kind of an open area.”

“I’m not sure,” he responded. We continued running on, with me right behind him.

After running for less than five minutes together he says, “That looks like a good spot,” while pointing to a log with a lot of brush surrounding it.

“Ah, yes, good call,” I replied. “Thank you!”

The silly thing of it all is that if this man hadn’t suggested a location for me to pee, I’m not sure I would have gone. I mean, I would’ve had to have gone eventually on the trail, but I probably would have waited it out until I found a completely “secure” place. None the less, I took care of business and no one saw me.

Onward I went. I felt like a new person! No side cramp! I was ready to rock and roll!

I only felt this way for a short while. I was faced with another steep climb and began walking. Even when I walked, I made sure to always go at a steady pace and that no one else passed me while walking. (They didn’t).

I really would like to give the play-by-play for the rest of the race but it’s all starting to blur together. Plus, I’m probably boring you by now. Here’s the rest that I recall.

I was very thankful for the supporters who created their own aid station for us around/just before mile 20. It was at the bottom of the last “big climb.” A volunteer asked me if I needed anything and when I said I wasn’t sure, he helped me take off my pack and checked the bladder of my hydration pack. “I’ll give you a little more so you make it up the hill!” he said. He poured in more water and helped me put my pack back on. I took a shot of cola and continued into the unknown.

You see, this was the only part of the entire 31 miles that Bryce and I didn’t practice. We didn’t do it on purpose. We couldn’t find the trail to this part because it’s one of those side trails that is pretty hidden. When we realized we had missed the turn, it was too late to go back because it would have gotten dark on us. (We started the practice run in the afternoon in February). Anyway, once I started climbing up — walking the entire way — I sort of laughed because we had skipped the hardest part of the race. Welcome to Chinscraper!  I guess it got its name from people, uh, scrapping their chins from falling? It took me about 15-20 minutes to make it the whole way up. It was only about a mile, but also about 700 feet up. After the race, Bryce told me that as soon as he started this part, he thought: Kristin is not going to be happy with this. (He was correct).

The struggle

When I arrived at the second-to-last aid station at mile 20.5, I wanted to just stop and hang out with the volunteers. I took more time than I had at any of the other stations. My main reason was because I didn’t want to continue along the course alone and the other runners who were stopping were not in any rush. It wasn’t that I was afraid I would get lost. We were on the downhill of the course now, basically going back part of the way we came! But, my body was hurting. Every step I took, I could feel a blister forming on each foot. Any company, even if it was just for a little while, I needed.

I was hurting but my spirits weren’t too low. When I returned to the switch-backs, now going down, I “let my body fall” and flew down the mountain. I passed several runners going down. Hikers stood to the side to let me go by, cheering all the while. I felt good. I had a nice endorphin kick, maybe. My splits were faster.

However, that on-top-of-the-world feeling ended once I returned to the Interurban Trail, you know, for that last six miles back into town. Being on a flat concrete trail was doing nothing positive for my mind or body. When you can’t see the end, and the trail looks like it goes on and on, you don’t feel very good. This is where I felt like every runner passed me. Also, my Garmin died so that made matters even worse. I knew going into this race that there was a good possibility that my battery wouldn’t last because I have the most basic of GPS watches. I didn’t want to invest in a brand new expensive one since I wasn’t sure if the ultra distance is something I will continue with in the future.

With about five miles left of the race, I had no sense of time. This was the lowest point for me. I brought my iPod shuffle along and decided to listen to some music. Taking off and on my pack to get my iPod was a struggle in itself. When I swung my left arm, I tweaked it and had an excruciating pain in my upper arm. Thankfully, the pain only lasted for about 10 minutes and disappeared.

If anything could help me now, maybe Beyonce or Taylor Swift would.

I trudged along. I knew I would finish. But, I was hurting — a ton. I started to question my reasoning behind wanting to do this race.

But, I thought about Natalie, my main motivator for running marathons. I thought about my friends and family. I thought about my teammates.

As other runners passed me, it wasn’t the same friendly atmosphere like it was at the beginning of the race. No one said anything to me now. No one wanted to chat. Any onlooker probably thought we looked like zombies heading south for the spring. (Although, we were heading north, I’m pretty sure).

Finally with about two miles to go, we got a few nice little hills. I jogged up them and went by a few racers who decided to walk up. I knew that if I started walking this close to the finish, I would want to walk the rest of the way back. Among the folks I passed were a few young guys.

“Nice job!” one of them yelled as I continued on.

I caught up to another woman who looked to be about my age. We approached the last hill of the race together and started to walk. (This was one of those ones that was too long to jog up at this point).

“Did that volunteer say we have three miles to go?” I asked her.

She replied that it was two miles.

I was relieved. Two miles I can do, I told myself.

Once we got to the top of that little hill, this woman and I continued to run together, side by side. We slowly started passing a few other people. I don’t think we were going that fast, but we had definitely picked up the pace from the speed I was doing by myself the few miles prior.

We chatted a little bit; where we are from, our next races, that sort of thing.

“Thank you so much for running with me,” she said while we were not more than a mile out from the finish.

“Oh, thank you for running with me!” I replied. “If we weren’t together right now. I would be wayyy back there.”

With about 400-600 meters from the finish line, I kicked in everything I had left. Back when I was a zombie when my Garmin died, I didn’t expect to be able to have a kick at the end. But, somehow there’s always a little left in the tank, right?

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Once I came out of the trail, there were spectators along the road cheering. I saw Bryce and smiled and sprinted to the finish. (Thank you, race organizers for that slight downhill finish. It was a Godsend!) I heard my name announced as I crossed the line.

I did it. I was done. I finished in one piece without any falls, cuts or major breakdowns.

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I thought I would cry when I finished, but I didn’t. I was in too much pain. Walking was just as painful now that I was done.

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Photo courtesy of Elisa, on right

I found Elisa and congratulated her, we snapped a photo together, and then Bryce and I headed back to our hotel. I was too tired to stick around. My entire face was covered in salt. I needed a shower ASAP! When I took off my shoes and socks, not only did a lot of dirt and pine needles fall out, even a few small rocks!

That night I still was kind of in shock that I did it.

But, if you set your mind to something, you can do anything.

I texted my mom and told her I didn’t die and that I completed my first 50K! The week prior, she had lovingly told me I was going to die. If that’s not tough love, I don’t know what is.

2016 racing has officially begun. Ultra marathon: check!

Night before my first ultra: thoughts, many thoughts

There are now less than 12 hours before the Chuckanut 50K — my first ultra.

I have a lot of thoughts rolling through my head.

Will I finish? is a big one. Deep down I know I will finish, but whenever you embark on doing something you have never ever done before in your entire life, doubts start to creep in.

It also doesn’t help that my mom told me I wouldn’t make it to the finish. Her exact words, “You’re going to die!” (Sometimes it’s kind of hard having an Asian mom …)

I know it’s going to be painful. I know it will be rough at times. I’ve practiced the course (twice) so I know what to expect. But, this means I also know that I can do it. (Because I already have!)

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So, what exactly am I nervous about?

Having to go to the bathroom, perhaps. I am first and foremost a road runner. I’m used to have portapotties on the course for road marathons. I’ve had to use them mid-race on a few occasions.

And, it’s not like I’ve never peed in the woods. I’ve hiked and backpacked (once) and gone on trail runs before. But, it’s never been with a lot of other people around! This race is expected to have ~300 runners … what if someone sees me??

When I brought this fear up with Bryce, his advise to me was to just step off the trail “and go.” He says no one will care because they will just be running by and focusing on themselves. (I feel like it’s easier said coming from a guy!)

Anyway …

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Don’t get me wrong, I am excited for the race! I’m looking forward to doing what I love in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world! I’m ready to do something I have never done before. I’m thankful to have Bryce there too, he may be running the race ahead of me but it’ll be nice to know that he is also out there with me. I’ll be thinking of my Oiselle teammates who have wished me well on my race. I’ll be thinking about my friends and family who have been so supportive throughout this training cycle — yes, even my mom! (Her telling me I will be headed toward my demise is her special way of saying I can do it!)

I’ll be doing a lot of thinking out there on the trails tomorrow.

I’m nervous. I’m excited.

But, it’s time to take my own advise* and just run!

 

*Trust in your training

 

 

Ultra training: Last long run before the real run

I had been coming off of a cold / jet lag / return-to-normalcy-from-vacation / orienting to Daylight Savings time / fatigue — or to sum it all up, a funk when Bryce and I ventured out for our last long run before my first 50K.

We did a little more than 13 miles. It was supposed to be the 10K out-and-back of the actual race course, but we either accidentally added a bit or my Garmin is just way off. I’m hoping it’s the former.

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This run took place Sunday.

For those of you who live in the greater Puget Sound area, you know what the conditions were like Sunday. People lost power from the windstorms. Some meteorologists were comparing it to a hurricane. It was rainy. It was grey. It was gross.

And, I was overcoming from being in my funk …

Bryce was kind and tolerant to run at my pace. For the first mile or so, that meant 9:45 pace. This felt like a hard 9:45 pace to me. I was using all my energy and effort on a more or less flat part of the course.

Luckily when we first started running, the rain had temporarily stopped.

Luckily when the rain started up again, I was too preoccupied with trying to catch another pair of runners in front of us to care.

I gained a little bit of self confidence once we passed the other runners. I pushed us to an 8:17 mile for that fifth mile because of it. And the crazy thing is that my effort level didn’t feel like it was at 8:17 minutes per mile.

Like I said, trying to kick the funk …

The “back” part of the out and back wasn’t very fun for me. I kept telling myself that during the actual race, I will be coming off of running ~24 miles so I should just suck it up. It did not help.

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The wind started swooping in.

I felt like it was getting darker, although it was impossible since um, daylight savings time!

When we made it back to the car 13.65 miles later, I was relieved. I gave some sighs of relief and grunts as I walked with my head down.

“How am I supposed to do the race when this was so hard??” I said.

Bryce said something encouraging. I almost got knocked down by the car door that didn’t want to stay open because of those high winds. I was more than ready to go home.

Three days since that run, I feel good that I did it.

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With this run, and the other one last month, I’ve now experienced the Chuckanut 50K course in its entirety.

I just have to complete it all in one sitting standing, er, running!

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(Oh, and I run commuted home today in the sweet sunshine and I think it’s safe to say that I have finally diminished my funk!)

Ultra training: My longest (training) run to date

I had never run 24 consecutive miles during a training run prior to Sunday.

Yes, I have run several full marathons, which is 26.2 miles.

But, I never exceeded 20 miles in any of my training runs for any of those 7 full marathons.

IMG_4808Now I finally have — in rainy, wet conditions to boot!

A runner friend, SO, who lives in Duvall kindly mapped out a 24-mile route for me. (Think “out in the country” for this city girl). And, not only did she organize my run, she orchestrated it. She coordinated her family to drop off another friend, SS, to meet us in the middle of my run. SS had 10 miles on the docket and it was nice knowing someone else was nearby me as I continued my run. Our master organizer biked back and forth between us.

Oh, did I not mention SO was on her bike this entire time? Yes!

We ran along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. It was wet but there were a few breaks from the showers. Despite the weather, I was thankful to have a change in scenery. There were marshes, farmlands and open pastures.

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I didn’t pay any attention to my pace for my first 10 miles. This was mainly due to the fact that my Garmin was struggling to catch a satellite signal so I aborted and just used the good old fashioned stop watch feature.

It was oddly relaxing to run with no pressure. SO biked alongside me and we chit-chatted. This part was a nice constant flat terrain. I had no complaints.

At 10 miles, I started using my GPS. I was racking in around 9 minute/mile pace, or just a bit over. But, at around mile 15/16 my feet started dragging and I was less enthused. I just wanted to finish the run and get out of my wet clothes.

SO also made sure that two more friends were waiting for me at my 20-mile mark. I had just worked myself up a hill from the Snoqualmie Valley Trail to the Tolt Pipeline Trail and was feeling pretty drained. Then, I saw this hill:

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This photo doesn’t do the hill justice but I just hoped that my friends were waiting at the top of the thing to help me finish my last four miles. They were. In fact, by the time I reached the bottom of it, they were making their way down to meet me half-way. (So thoughtful!)

I was happy to have company again. I felt spent but I knew that with their help, I would get all my miles in. (Had I been alone, I would have quit at mile 20).

It was four miles of big rolling hills. I could feel blisters forming under both of my feet.

IMG_4819When we were done, my body felt similar to how it feels after racing a road marathon!

I couldn’t have done 24 consecutive miles without the support from others. People think that running is a solitary sport or activity. It definitely is not.

Running does start with yourself. But, it’s your friends, family and/or teammates that help you get to that finish line — whether it be a 5K, marathon or a 24-mile training run for your first ultra!

Ultra training: 21 miles strong

I seem diligent at training for races.

I’m usually pretty good at sticking to schedules/training plans but that typically just means running the appropriate times per week and maintaining a certain number of miles. And, doing strength and core in between some of those runs.

I don’t pace well during training runs. This is because I usually just go with the “run how I feel” method. If I am feeling crappy, I will run slow. If I feel great, I will run fast(er). I won’t unnecessarily push myself to just run faster when I am running by myself.

Two Saturdays ago, it was different though.

I’m currently training for my first 50K so I have no expectations in terms of a finish time or overall pace. I just want to finish the darn trail race in one piece—and within the race cut-off time (8 hours).

But, in the back of my mind while I am training for this 50K, I am also thinking about building myself up, both physically and mentally, for the Anchorage Marathon in June. This road marathon is my “real” goal race for the year. I’ve been chasing a sub-4 hour marathon time for two years and Anchorage is where it will (hopefully) happen.

I had no reason to run fast that morning. But, I did.

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I started off running five solo miles down and back up Magnolia Boulevard from Discovery Park—my home base for the morning. Then my friends, Julia, Mo and Shannon met up with me and we ran two park loops together. I checked my watch off and on during the run and always saw we were around 9’s and sometimes dipped to 9:30 on the hills. I didn’t really care since I was with my friends and we were enjoying catching up with one another since we all hadn’t seen each other in a while.

Julia continued on with me to get me to a total of 16 miles. She’s so kind and isn’t training for anything but ran a total of ~11 miles with me! We talked life stuff along Government Way. I was getting tired but it was nice having company. We attacked a hill together. We were knocking out miles at sub-9 pace. There was one or two miles at 8:30 pace as well!

I was stunned when I looked at my watch after my total 16 miles and saw I had averaged 9:05 pace.

Maybe I can keep this going even on my own now, I thought.

I said good-bye to Julia and half dreaded, half looked forward to taking on my last five miles alone. I hadn’t clearly mapped out a route ahead of time so I did the same out and back I had done at the beginning of my run.

I passed many dog walkers and other fellow IMG_4775runners. I was sure to smile at each one of
them. I was in a great mood! The endorphins were kicking in. I surged on the downhills and really made a conscious effort to kill the uphills by pumping my arms and leaning in.

By no means were my legs feeling great, but my heart and my mind were both elated. Those two pieces of my body felt very strong that morning.

When I arrived back at the parking lot with my Garmin beeping to signify I had reached 21 miles, I looked down and was surprised that I maintained the pace. I averaged 9:05 pace for the total 21 miles.

To give you a better perspective, I would need to maintain an average 9:05 pace to finish with a time of 3:58:09 in a marathon. This is my goal race pace.

The beautiful Seattle weather we had during that run probably had a lot to do with my mood. Let’s be real, has anyone ever had a great 21-miler in the Seattle rain? And, I know having friends for the middle miles also helped me out a lot.IMG_4777

I’m training for my first ultra. But, I’ not losing sight of my June marathon.

I feel stronger than I ever have before. And, it’s a great feeling.