Thoughts after my first ultra

IMG_5108After I wrote my Chuckanut 50K race recap a few days ago, I realized I forgot to include some pertinent race details.

Like, my race finish time.

And, how I kept up with nutrition during the race.

I guess I just stuck with the important stuff — like my thought process on needing to use the bathroom out in the woods, and the fact that I finished my first ultra marathon in one piece!

So, let’s now get down to the nitty gritty.

I had no real expectations on a race finish time going into this thing. My #1 goal was to finish. I kept telling people prior to the race that I didn’t care if I came in last, I just wanted to do it.

I finished with a time of 6:41:54. I was 63rd out of 105 female finishers. Even though I had no specific time goal, I knew that I would probably finish somewhere in the realm between 6 and 7 hours. And, I did! So, that’s good, right?

Looking back, had I trained with a little more focus and dedication, I probably could have finished with a better time (and in less pain!) My mid-week runs never went higher than six miles but I diligently devoted my weekends to the long run and recovery run. I know, you seasoned ultra runners are probably cringing at my training!

And, how did I take in “all the calories” during the 50K? For my long runs — anything more than 18 miles — during this training cycle, I always had a few Gu packets, a Probar (the gummies) and a Clif bar. For the actual race, it was no different. Well, I actually didn’t have a Clif bar during the race because I never felt like I could stomach it. At the aid stations I stopped at, I always took a handful of pretzels or chips and had a few shot blocks. I consumed a total of four Gu’s (even though I brought six with me, just in case).

Four is the number of Gu’s I take on a regular road marathon. So, looking back on it, I probably consumed just enough to get through this race. Maybe if I had tried to eat more, I would have felt better? Or, worse?

When I had lunch with a high school friend the Monday after Chuckanut, the first thing she said to me was, “OK, Kristin, do we need to have an intervention?” and continued on about how my running may be getting out of hand. (She was half-joking, half serious).

But, she may be right.

I may have already promised to do an ultra with Phyllis when she is back living in Seattle again. (Whoops). But, I said I would do it if we ran together the entire time. She agreed.

Even after “all that hurt*” I experienced during and after Chuckanut, I’m not closing off the idea of doing another 50K.

I guess I’m a real ultra runner now!

 

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*My feet in general, all over, were so sore that night after the race that I had a hard time falling asleep because they felt so bothersome! Don’t worry, three days later I was running (slow) again!

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!

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.

 

The wake up and the run

Two weeks ago I woke up at 6:20 a.m. — earlier than I do on a regular work day — and was out running by 7 a.m. It was dark. I wore my headlamp and super-reflective jacket.

It was kind of nice because I was out in my neighborhood and there were hardly any cars that drove by. I ran past one pedestrian for the entire five miles.

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But my run that morning was not a mere five miles. Joanna and I met up with Team In Training (TNT) at Tiger Mountain and ran six miles with the team. And then after that was all well and done, Joanna and I continued on for another six-point-five miles together.

I’m not an over-achiever, I’m just doing my best at training for my first ultra. And, I’m too embarrassed to share my training schedule because I know it’s not adequate. I’ve been having trouble with getting longer mid-week runs in. But, that is neither here nor there.

Anyway. I’ll be honest. That first mile of that Saturday morning run by myself in the dark was not fun. It kind of sucked.

But, the miles with friends do not suck. The miles with TNT remind me why I run.  I run for myself, but also for those who cannot.

Tomorrow morning I am going to do my best to get six miles in on my own before I meet up with high school friends at Discovery Park. Because, you know, 21 miles is a lot of miles. And, I’d rather not have my long run (and recovery) take up most of my daylight hours.

So, instead of writing about how I must wake up early and run in the morning — hopefully now when it is not dark! — I should really go to sleep.

Because tomorrow I must wake up, and run.

 

What I’m not giving up for Lent

I’m not Catholic but I went to a Catholic Jesuit high school.

Catholicism was by no means pushed on me during that four years of schooling. But, I did learn about the Lenten season.

Throughout college I “participated” in Lent. I usually gave up Facebook so I would have more time for studying. Now, several years out of college, I have a harder time figuring out what to give up. I don’t drink alcohol excessively. I don’t like sweets. Last year I gave up chips. (Salty junk food is my vice).

This year?

This time I’m focusing more about not giving up.

I’m training for my first ultra marathon — in the midst of training for a June road marathon — and I need to make sure I stay on track. I need to do my best to run when I don’t want to. I need to do my best to make sure I am getting enough miles logged in on the weekends.

My race is March 19, so a week and one day before Easter.

Today my coworker asked me if I wanted a ride to Green Lake. I live about two miles away from Green Lake and she had given me a ride there earlier this week since I didn’t want to run the full five miles home that day. (My training plan didn’t call for five miles that day, don’t worry!)

But, I had planned to run the entire five miles home today.

“Uhhhh. No, but, thank you,” was my response.

It would have been so easy to catch a ride and avoid a potential rainy run home after a long work day. But, I didn’t give in to the temptation.

And, easy doesn’t get you prepared for your first ultra.

 

In running: Levels of crazy

When I first started running half-marathons in college, other people were “pretty impressed.”

“How do you run that long? Don’t you get bored?” The questions like these ones kept rolling in on the daily.

Back then I wasn’t even racing. I mean, I didn’t know about proper nutrition. I didn’t know how to properly train to get faster. I didn’t so speed work.

I just ran.

Because I liked to run.

But eventually I learned that it’s also fun to really train and to crush your PRs.

And then it became fun to try new distances, to log in more miles.

I started training and racing full marathons. Six years ago after completing my first full marathon, I never would have even dreamed of being a sub-4 hour marathoner.

Today, I’m not a sub-4 hour marathoner.

But, I am training every day to become one. (OK, yes, there are rest days but rest days are included in training, right?)

The goal is to cut off at least 1 minute and 19 seconds from my marathon time because my current PR is 4:01:18. (I know, it pains me too).

But before the Anchorage Marathon in June, I’ll be tackling my first ultra marathon in March. An ultra is any distance longer than a standard marathon (so, 26.2 miles).

“What’s wrong with you? You have issues,” my coworker sarcastically said to me last week when I mentioned my plans for the weekend included doing a 25K for fun as a volunteer.

I tried to explain that in the realm of runners, I wasn’t that crazy.

“There are runners crazier than I am,” I replied. “There are people out doing 50-milers, and 100-milers, or more!”

It’s all relative, right?

My normal is someone else’s crazy. Someone else’s normal is my crazy.

I shake my head when I think of my 22-year-old self who ran her first half-marathon in a cotton T-shirt and only took a few cups of water during the summer race.

If anything, I was pretty crazy back then!

Getting back to normal

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These feet were made for running!

I’m finally feeling like my old self again.

With the cold/flu season for the year behind me, I can finally focus on more important things! Don’t worry, I didn’t have the flu. I just had a bad head cold that had me out of commission (on both the work front and running front) for a week!

And now that I’m fully functioning at both of those activities again, I finally feel normal.

Tuesday’s run home was not-so-great just because it was my first run-commute home in nearly two weeks! And, it was super rainy. Once my feet and socks are soaked, a so-so run can turn miserable pretty quickly. I was just happy that I made it home in not-my-slowest-time home.

I’m excited to be back training.

While I am training for the Anchorage Marathon in June, my immediate attention is on Chuckanut — the 50K (aka 30-ish-mile) trail race I’ll be tackling in mid-March! (I know, I know, I’m kind of crazy).

After signing up for the ultra last week, I came to the scary realization that I have exactly 10 weeks to train for this thing. (Now writing this, it’s down to 9!)

Is that enough time now that I’m “behind” from getting sick? What have I gotten myself into?

All these thoughts started coming in. Phyllis, thinking sensibly, told me to hold off on my first 50K for another time. But, once I told her I already paid the pretty hefty registration fee … it was kind of like “OK, let’s do this!”

One of my coworkers who is a seasoned trail runner told me that since I did the Cle Elum 25K in September with no significant problems, I’ll definitely be able to do Chuckanut. Cle Elum also measured out to 18 miles so I’ll only be running ~12 miles more, right? She is an optimist but I am taking that optimistic approach from now until March!

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Saturday run with my new friend, Bobby!

Saturday I did 10 miles in the grey, rainy Seattle weather. My first 5 miles began at 7:30 a.m. when it was still dark. I was lucky that one of my Team In Training coaches met me early and brought a friend. The second 5 miles were with the team.

I was sore the rest of the day because we had been clipping away at a fast-ish pace (plus I had played a game of ultimate Frisbee the night before and I haven’t been sprinting around on the ultimate field for a few months!)

It’s a good feeling though. It’s a good feeling to be out running with new friends, knowing that you’re running for yourself and for those who cannot.