Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Back to the Track

So, I am not new to speedwork, having done my first round of it in preparation for my Chicago marathon last October.  I think it works, given that I was able to PR at Chicago and meet my goal of a 3:15.  But...I really don't like it.  If I had my choice, I'd do my usual 6 miles of 9-10 minute pace with my running group and be as happy as a clam.  Yet speedwork enables me to set a goal and push myself towards it.  It's fun to see what I am capable of, and with the approaching 5K and 10K season it is time to get back out there and see if I can make improvements to my times in each event.

On February 15th, I headed to the track with my friend, Julia Clark, for our first round of 800s for this season.  Last year, I was able to run 8 of these above marathon-pace time (a quick rule-of-thumb is that you should be able to run 800 meters--two laps of the track--in minutes/seconds of what you want your marathon time to be in hours/minutes).

We only did 4 800s today, since we are just starting back.  I was happy with my times:

3:13, 3:09, 3:09, 3:07

Notice that I got faster as I went and that the last time was the fastest.  A good first attempt back!

Monday, February 20, 2012

50 States...Almost 2/5 of the Way There

Rick and I are heading to Virginia next month to run our 20th state in our quest to run a marathon in all 50 states.  Though it may seem like we've got a long way to go before we start celebrating, I do think we can be proud of the work that's gotten us here.  I never thought back in 2001 when I completed my own state of Alabama that I would be here today!  Now each and every one of these 19 states holds memories for us--states that I may never have traveled to if not for this goal.  We are seeing so much of our country and enjoying the running at the same time!

I thought it would be fun to look back and see when I've completed the 19 states (Rick has done the same states but some in a different order than mine).

Alabama (1)

Tennessee (2)
Georgia (3)

California (4)

Arizona (5)
Florida (6)
Ohio (7)
Kentucky (8)

Mississippi (9)
North Carolina (10)
South Dakota (11)

Wisconsin (12)

Hawaii (13)
Iowa (14)

Louisiana (15)
West Virginia (16)

South Carolina (17)
Missouri (18)
Illinois (19)

I know that some "50 Staters" are people with more time and resources for travel, but if you are young (or have a young family) and are looking for some tips to make this goal a reality for you, read on.

Top 10 Tips From a 19/50 Stater:
1. Run when you can afford to.  The year where we ran the most states was 2004.  We had just gotten married and were "DINKS" (double income, no kids).  We took advantage of the opportunity and ran like crazy.  We knew we would have kids down the road.  That year, we wanted to accomplish all we could while we could.

2.  Don't stress if you have zero states in some years.  In 2006 and 2007, I ran no states.  I was having our babies!  No worries!  That's life.  This goal will never be more important than my family is to me.  

3. Enjoy some big trips.  We have great memories of our only plane-trip states--California, Arizona, and Hawaii.  All were big, expensive trips that included some sightseeing and other touristy things as well as the race.  On the other hand...

4. Not all states are going to be big trips.  Rick and I have learned how to drive up the day before, run the race the next day, and drive home after the race.  Not the most glamorous way to do it, but it works.

5. To go along with #4, drive to all the nearby states first.  This is pretty common-sense.  We live in Alabama, and we are working on hitting all of the states within a doable driving distance before doing any more plane-ticket trips.  Some 50-Staters even do "doubles," hitting two states all within the same weekend, but I haven't tried that yet (nor do I think I can complete two marathons in one weekend!).  

6. Enjoy each race's uniqueness.  I really think Rick and I have gotten good at this one.  We like the contrast between large and small races.  We comment to each other on the unique things that each race has to offer.  We talk about what we enjoyed along the courses and have found such variety within just these 19 states so far!

7. Be prepared to be surprised at your favorites!  In 2009, I ran both Hawaii and Iowa.  I bet you think you know which one was my favorite race, but you're probably wrong!  I actually LOVED Iowa and its beautiful fall colors and temperature and disliked Hawaii due to the course being alongside a road and it being hot with no shade!  I love being surprised like that!  I love learning more about my country by truly experiencing it!

8. Get creative to make the trips work for you and your family.  Now that we are a family of four, we have had to be creative to make marathoning work.  We travel to where a babysitter (relative) lives or we take them with us (free trip for them!).  We combine our marathon trip with sightseeing for our children.  We do things that we know our kids will get excited about and enjoy too, even if it means all we have time for is a quick shower before heading out after the race.  We visit parks and children's museums (we have a reciprocal nationwide pass).

9.  Have a planner and a dreamer.  The reason that Rick and I work so well is that I am the dreamer and he is the planner.  I was the one who originally came up with the "dream" to run a marathon in every state.  Without plans, I would be nowhere!  That is where Rick comes in.  He is able to plan the travel dates, routes, hotels, and even training programs that carry both of us to the race.  So I guess we are a good balance (though I think it is obvious that I got the better end of that deal!).

10. This one is important: REQUEST LATE CHECK OUT AND VERIFY IT!  Rick and I had a horrible experience in a hotel once where our stuff was bagged up and put outside of our room because the maids didn't know we had a late check out.  We NEEDED back into that room for our showers.  Uh, lesson learned for us!

If you are also trying to achieve this goal, I would love to hear your experiences.  What states/marathons do you recommend that we have not done?  What tips do you have to share?  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mountain Mist Thanks and Pictures

I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who commented on my Mountain Mist post.  It it so great to have friends from all over who are reading my blog and taking the time to comment.  I am guilty of reading blogs and then getting too busy to respond.  But now I now I know how much each comment means to me, so I will try to do a better job of it too!

I realized that it is hard to get a true sense of the Mountain Mist 50K without pictures, so I included a few more of mine.  Most of these were taken by PBC Sports Photography (the photographers along the course) and We Run Huntsville (Gregg Gelmis).

Here you can see the fast start and the dash to the trail head.  I am in the middle in my grayish blue shirt.  Next to me are Christy Scott (in the pink hat) and Kathy Youngren (in red). 

Race Start

Still racing to the trail head
Once you get on the trails, they are mostly single-track for awhile.  This means you will have to go single-file unless you can find a way to pass someone.  This is very different from road racing and took awhile for me to get used to when I first ran Mountain Mist!  Here I am keeping up with Kathy, Rick (my husband), and Mark Freeman (in back).
Climbing the trails

Climbing and chatting

I'm not sure where this picture was taken, but I like it and it's a favorite.  I like the trees in the background, the fact that I'm smiling, and the mud on my legs!  These three things sum up Mountain Mist well to me.

I really don't like this picture because I don't look very serious!  I look like I'm going for a stroll, not racing.  This is the Stone Cuts section of the race.  It's a hard part to run, and I enjoy taking it slow and twisting my way through the rocks.  You actually go into a pitch-black section right after this part--a dark cave.  I was smiling because the photographer sort of took me by surprise.  I was enjoying the solitude and the scenery of this cool section of the course.

Goin' for a stroll
Another favorite.  I can feel the exhaustion all over again when I see this picture!

And the finish line pictures

There are MANY more beautiful scenes from this race--Monte Sano Mountain is so beautiful and such a HUGE distraction when you are running.  There are waterfalls, wooden bridges, all kinds of rocks and boulders, sometimes deer and snakes, yellow flowers, and much more.  There are also funny things, like signs and talking skeletons, that people put out along the course.  These things all really take your mind off the fact that you are running 31 grueling miles!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Double Stroller in Florida!

At Disney!
I'm back after a nearly week-long trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Rick had a work trip there, and I decided to tag along with the kids.  Fun times!  Here are a few things we did:
I took the kids on a double stroller run while Rick was at work.  I carried the stroller from our room down to the lobby (I love our Bob, but it doesn't fit through standard door frames so we have to carry it through).  Then, I got the kids their breakfasts and piled the plates and bowls onto their laps in the stroller.  The kids were going to spend the rest of the day running around the beach and swimming at the pool, so they would do fine for a short run.

Then I noticed that the stroller's tires were very low but not quite flat.  I decided I would try to inflate them at a gas station and found one about 15 minutes into my run.  After taking the cap off of one of the tires, it quickly deflated, and no air was coming out of the hose.  That's when I walked around the machine and saw the sign, "Air $1.00."  So I dashed into the store carrying two $1 bills.  The attendant, who must have seen me struggling outside, would only give me $1 change and wasn't very nice about it!  The lady behind me in the line said, "Don't worry, your day will get better."  Having tossed and turned all night and now this, I really did believe it could only get better.  I ran back out to where I had left the kids in the stroller to their cries of "What are you doing, Mommy?" and "Why aren't we going?"

I put the quarters into the machine and heard a loud sound as the air came on.  Knowing I only had $1 and that the attendant wasn't going to give me any more change, I quickly started filling the tires.  I managed to get them all inflated properly and gladly resumed my run.  Nothing like a little adventure to make the run interesting!
I went on a beach run the next day alone.  I couldn't get the hang of running in the sand with my shoes on, so I headed back to the road.  I turned it into a little of a tempo run and did one sub-7:00 minute mile with 7 miles total.
I went two days without running!  One day, we were at Disney, and we walked all day long (9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.).  The stroller came in handy that day!  The next day, we rode home for another 12 hour day.
It felt great to get my usual 10 miles on Monday even though I left Florida's 70 degree highs for our 30's.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mountain Mist 50K January 28, 2012

Preparing for the race involved a lot more preparations for the kids then for me!  I got their things ready on Wednesday-Thursday before the race on Saturday.  I bought goodies (fruit loops and yarn to make necklaces, stickers, and poster board to make signs).  I made their lunches and laid out some play clothes that I wouldn't mind if they got dirty.  I checked the weather, too, since the sitter was planning to watch them at our house if the weather was too cold or rainy that day.  The sitter and I agreed that the Lodge (where the race starts and ends) would be a fine place for them to stay since the weather was going to be nice.  She brought her DVD player so she could show them movies.  Of course, when we got there, the big fireplace held their interest over anything else!  Below is the list I gave the sitter about activities to keep them busy over the six hours we would be gone.

List of things to do at the Lodge
I did get myself ready too!  I talked over clothing with Rick.  The temperature was much warmer than last year.  It would start in high 40s and end in the 50s.  Runners can add 20 degrees to the weather, and that is what it will feel like once you start running.  So shorts and shortsleeves it was!  No hat.  I wore a pair of gloves to the first aid station, and then I tossed them.  I later picked them up at the finish line since they were brought there by the volunteers.  I made sure I had put petroleum jelly under my nose (all of the wiping makes it dry and flaky) and Body Glide on my feet and anywhere else I thought it needed to go.  As usual, I took a shower in the morning to wake up my muscles and me!  We headed up the Lodge at 6:10 a.m. to get there to get our new timing chips by the 7:00 a.m. cut off.
Someone was giving announcements when we got there--funny ones, like "Just remember, don't get your timing chips wet!"  The lines for the bathrooms were reverse what you normally see---the women went right in, and the men had to wait!  Not many women brave this race, I guess!  We found the sitter and paid her ("This is for 6 hours.  Should something happen to both of us and we need more time, we'll pay the rest later!").  We looked around and chatted.  It's so fun to be in the excitement of race day!  We had gotten our packets the night before at the Lodge (and some really cool Mountain Mist apparel too, that you can see in my last post), but today I needed to exchange my tech shirt (I wanted a men's since it fits better than the women's).
After hitting the bathroom three times, I headed to the start.  Well, first I kissed the kids good-bye and watched them from a distance as they settled into sign-making with the sitter.  It's hard to be a mom.  I prayed for their safety as I ran and hoped they would behave for the sitter.
We found a good position at the start (front and center, right behind the front runners).  Wow, it was a nice day up there!  I was not cold at all in my shorts and shortsleeves.  I did decide on sunglasses, but I had to wear them on my head through some of the overcast parts of the race.  I carried my water/gatorade in a handheld carrier since I remember the belt giving me trouble last year.
The Race
The gun sounded at 7:30 a.m., and we were off.  And boy, what a fast start!  Rick says it's like a sprint to the trailhead, and it is!  Why?  Because once you get on the trailhead, it is single trail for awhile.  This means you are stuck behind whoever is in front of you, or you can risk slowly trying to pass one person at a time.  I remember walking during this segment in the past, all because I hadn't gotten to the trails quick enough.  So, we raced.  My first mile was a 7:27!  Once on the trail, I found myself to be in a comfortable position.  Rick, Kathy Youngren, and Mark Freeman were running a good pace for me to keep up with without too much effort, so I made it a point to try to stay with them.
I loved running with Kathy.  She was running her 14th Mountain Mist.  She has won the women's division several times.  She is such an expert on this race and a great source of advice about the strategy behind Mountain Mist.  Hearing her thoughts on the race really helped me learn more about it.  She told me that she favors the more difficult second "half," and she cleared up the confusion I had about the "halves" that aren't half!  The first "half" of Mountain Mist is actually 16.9 miles, and the second "half" is about 14 miles.  But she says that they are divided this way based on the difficulty of the second section.  It is so much harder, that you will probably actually run it slower, even though it is shorter.  Even splits are good, but she is one of about 50 people to be able to negative split on this course.  This shows what a tough runner she is, and it shows that she knows how to correctly conserve on the first half.
She also told me about "Kathy's bench," which is around Mile 29 in the middle of a huge climb out of McKay Hollow called Rest Shelter Hill.  She says that her "rule" is that it's okay to walk the steep section up until the bench.  When you get to the bench, you must start running.  Keep going until you get to the top of Rest Shelter Hill.  I saved that information for later, as you will see.
I joked with Kathy that Rick and I were just trying to beat each other today.  It was funny at the time because Rick did not want to beat me at all, but I had told him that I thought we were well-matched this year (no one was out of shape or injured).  It would be a good match between the well-trained (Rick) and the better-recent marathon performer (me).  It would be interesting to see how we finished, thought I think "sub 5:30" was in both of our minds.  I think we are still too "new" to Mountain Mist to be able to know exactly how to go about getting that time on the trails with any degree of accuracy!  
Kathy had us laughing with her good-natured joking with the other runners, intrigued by her future races (131 miles in Hungary), and impressed with her knowledge of the trails she obviously loves so much.  She was a great distraction for a rather boring first several miles.  She went on to win the women's race yet again and was a well-deserving and humble winner.  I, who picked over my own outfit several times, found it refreshing to hear that she gave no thought to her outfit today.  She lets her performance speak for itself, as we all should!
The best thing I did to prepare for the race was to memorize the minutes/hours of my split times last year.  So I knew "59-50-54-42-54-1:16."  This helped me so much to know when I should be getting close to an aid station, and it let me know that I was ahead of pace from last year's race in some sections.  I had it printed on duct tape on my water bottle holder, but memorizing it prevented me from having to stop and look.
We all cruised into Aid Station 1 very easily (5 minutes ahead of my schedule) and continued on our way.  Unfortunately, I could not keep up with Rick and Kathy after we hit Aid Station 2.  I took some time to eat and then walk as I approached the Stone Cuts section of the course.  Already I was passing a few men who had started too fast.  This continued slowly throughout the morning (I improved my standings from 53 to 39 as the race progressed).  I saw the girl who was in first place injured after the Fern Drive Aid Station.  I knew that meant I was in second place.  This gave me additional motivation to keep running strong!
The second half of the race was pretty lonely for me.  I ran most of it alone, passing a man every so often.  I ran with Eric Fritz, the new Huntsville Track Club president, for awhile.  He managed to kick some mud up onto my face and glasses as I ran behind him in the Land Trust section.  Yuck!  As for the trails, they were very wet and muddy, but they didn't slow me down like I had thought they might.  The Waterline Climb was very hard for me, not because I could not do it, but because my back was hurting and I had to stop and try to stretch it out.  I did this several times as I climbed the long climb right before the waterfall.  I also started saying to myself, "How bad do you want this?"  I repeated this phrase many times as I finished the last 10 miles.
I could not believe my eyes in McKay Hollow when I looked up and saw Rick in front of me!  We were near the base of McKay Hollow, meaning that we had already run down "Suicide Drop" and were in the lowest portion before rising again to the mountain top.  He was climbing ahead of me, and I shouted "Hey there!"  He didn't turn around but shouted "Hi" back to me.  Just like that--"Hi"--no enthusiasm, so it was hard to read if he was in pain, "mad" that I had caught him, or what.  I continued to be able to keep him in my sight as we headed through the hollow (we have a rule---we each run our own race---so I did not expect him to stop for me).
As we started the big climb out of McKay Hollow, I slowly began to narrow the gap between us.  Then, there it was--Kathy's bench.  My quads were burning, my breath was labored, and I wanted to walk so badly.  But I didn't.  I started my run/shuffle to the top, just like Kathy had told me to do nearly 5 hours before.  I passed Rick and uttered something like "C'mon" or "Let's go!"  And I passed Eric Fritz.  I think after that I was making audible grunting noises as I crested the hill.
"There," I remember thinking.  I looked at my time.  5:10 with 1.7 miles to go.  It wasn't a matter of if I would break the 5:30, the question was by how much?  I ran as fast as I could on those tired legs of mine, just straining to the finish.  I will admit it here, though I'm sure it sounds a little crazy: I sang to myself out loud too.
My eyes are small but they have seen
the beauty of enormous things
Which leads me to believe
there's light enough to see that

You make everything glorious
You make everything glorious
You make everything glorious
And I am Yours

What does that make me?
Sound familiar?  That song has now carried me to two amazing finishes, and I give God all of the credit for both of those runs.  It's so amazing how He carried me over those last 1.7 miles.  I saw the finish clock and my kids.  What an awesome moment!  5:26:29 and second female!  Rick finished right behind me in 5:28:52.
I ate when I wanted to and what I wanted to before, during, and after this race.  I would literally stand at the Aid Stations and wait for my body to tell me what looked good.  They had a ton of choices!  I didn't think about what I "should" be eating for fuel.  I just ate.  Here's a list :)
Before--2 Honey Stinger Waffles (Vanilla)
Aid Station 1--Handful of M&Ms
Aid Station 2--2 Pretzels (had peanut butter in them!) and Handful of M&Ms
Aid Station 3--1/4 Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Aid Station 4--Bite Size Twix Bar
Aid Station 5--2 Quarter Potatoes Dipped in Salt (mmmmmmmm!)
Aid Station 6--5 or 6 Saltine Crackers
During the Race (at other places)--2 Packets Orange Clif Bloks with Caffeine (minus one that fell out), Powerade added to my bottle at each Aid Station)
After the race, I had two pieces of pizza and a piece of cookie cake.
Post Race
I used the kids' wet wipes to clean up the dried mud on my hands and upper legs.  There was way too much mud to get it all this way!  I wished I had remembered to leave a change of shoes with the sitter.  My feet HURT, mainly the two big toes on the sides.  They were wet and rubbed for 31 miles, causing two big blisters to form, one on each toe.  I ended up walking to the car barefoot.  I claimed my prize for second female--$50 from North Face and some cool Mountain Mist arm warmers, pretty much winning back the money we used for the sitter!
That night, we took the family to Duffy's Deli at 5:30 p.m. for the post-race party.  It worked out great, since they had just set out the food--white chicken chili--and it was free!  We bought drinks and a dessert to split.  Once people started arriving, we enjoyed swapping stories of the trails.  Rick was teased for being "wifed" (I passed him at the end, like getting "chicked"), but he was so sweet and said something like he felt no shame in getting passed by a strong runner like me.  I thought that was so nice of him to say.  He also said that he was encouraged about longer distances now, following some disappointing marathons and ultras in the past.  He took almost 30 minutes off of his old PR and can hold his head high with a sub 5:30 in Mountain Mist!  The best part of the meal showed up with the race directors, Dink and Suzanne Taylor--leftover cookie cake!  I got two pieces that were covered with icing.  So yummy!
I took Sunday off.  Well, okay, we took the kids ice skating for a friend's birthday party.  I was sore all over---but my ankles and lower back most of all.  My blisters were hurting in the skates, and I was straining to hold up a wobbly four year old.  Kind of hard.
Many of the local track club men (mostly from the Fleet Feet team) participated in a taco-eating contest on Sunday.  The pictures were just hilarious!  I guess if anyone should do a taco-eating competition, people who ran 31 miles the day before certainly qualify!  They brought in the race time clock and everything to Taco Bell.  Oh my!
Monday, I ran 6 miles with my group with little problem.  Then later that day, I felt very tired.  I had to lay down for awhile, and I had some shortness of breath (this is usual for me the day after a marathon).  Today (Wednesday), I was able to run 6 miles and still feel good throughout the work day.  So recovery is going well.
I am happy with my time--a new course PR for me by about 11 minutes!  I am excited that I was able to quickly acclimate to the trails after only two training runs on trails.  I hadn't seen the first half of the trails in a whole year!  I'm happy that I have a very good "training run" for my upcoming marathon in March.  And I'm ever so grateful to God for giving me a strong body to carry me to the finish line on Saturday.
Here are some pictures courtesy of We Run Huntsville and Gregg Gelmis:

The start line 

Me around Mile 17

One of many stream crossings
Comparisons of my time at the 6 Aid Stations (2011, 2008, 2012):  
59:44  (1:05:45)  54:52
50:25  (1:00:54)  50:11
54:59  (1:12:31)  55:30
42:06   (52:31)    39:19
54:29   (1:09:08)  53:50
1:16:08   (1:43:01) 1:12:50

Bib number, prizes for 2nd female, and finisher award