Tuesday, November 29, 2016

North County Run 2016: The Prelude to an Epic Adventure

Still the biggest medal in all the land. It finally stopped raining
and here I am smiling through the pain and shivering.
There is a time for everything and sometimes everything needs to happen simultaneously. 
The North Country 50 mile Trail Run 2016 was my time to prepare, suffer and dig deep. Practice for the big game. It left me cautious for what was coming next. This is the short tale of North Country 2016.

This race was one of the toughest, darkest races for me including asthma, pain, and torrential rains that produced grey screens like wax paper inhibiting my vision and washing out the trails. At one point I was yelling, "This it Ultra!" through the woods. I ran through flowing creek-like paths hiding the roots and rocks beneath. There was no other way but to run through it. Sounds extremely safe, right? Aid station #5 was referred to as Lake #5 on the second loop. It was a mess, and I kept imagining the fall I might take with my face submerged in water and mud.

Aid Station #5 referred to as Lake #5. When I stood in front of this table
to get something to eat, I was up to my ankles in water, and another runner
thought I should step out of his way as if I was in a shallow spot. I think
I replied something like, "We are all in the same lake."

The race started with a delay due to thunder and lightening which protocol is that start time shifts
30-minutes after each seen lightening strike in the sky. But once the race starts, you are on your own. I suffered an unusually bad breathing issue within the first 14 miles which I felt miserable and unable to catch my breath efficiently. I worked my lungs so hard that they hurt for a week after. I felt like I attempted 100 miles! My doctor then prescribed Singular which helps block allergens from the lungs and I have been on it ever since. So far so good. Whew!

I would have dropped this race like many did after the first 25 miles if not for a few things: 1) I didn't want to be quitter. It pissed me off thinking of that word, 2) I needed that damn thing to qualify for Grindstone100. My last true 50 was just over the 2 year span requirement and 3) Evie caught me at mile 25 changing my sobbing shoes for 10 miles of dryness. I kept telling her she saved my ass. I just followed her feet with my asthma thick lungs for the next 25 miles while trying to assist another runner with his upset stomach and misery. Ginger? Pepto? Tums?

I finally hit a DEEP mental dark spot with 8 miles to go and walked away from the Lake #5 Aid Station for a moment alone. There was a pain cave in my chest and mind and I had enough of being soaked. It was just about then that our male runner mate we had picked up (guy with stomach issues) started talking in detail about his diareah from the pre-race dinner the night before. And on cue, I forgot about my mental misery and will never think about cream sauce the same way again.

I doubted if I even belonged in GrindStone100 for most of the race due to the breathing issue that I just couldn't figure out, and an IT band strain that was creeping in by mile 20. I tried to stop thinking about it, but I couldn't. I kept pushing with the thought that there is nothing I can do about Grindstone, but I can do something about this race in the now. It was during this race that I found my mantra: "We Go."

In a storm, with breathing issues, in mental darkness, through creek trails, with IT band pain for 25 miles, with a guy talking about diareah... "We Go"

We finished with hardly anybody waiting out this full day of storms at the finish line. It finally had stopped raining! I had placed 4th in my age bracket (at least 5 had dropped behind me due to the stormy day) and I received a small award while lying on a table getting stretched out by the physical therapist. When he was done, my IT band felt new and better than the other leg! Where does this man work?!

Evie looking at the little boy right next to me blowing the airhorn.
The rain stopped but not the torture.
Evie and I grabbed a beer and some food and shivered over to a picnic table to eat and cheer for any runner who may be coming through. If they were out there as long as we were, they darn right deserve some cheers!!! Unfortunately, some little boy went rogue and had an airhorn he kept firing off near us and what ever parental units he had, weren't claiming him. That sucked. We didn't stay too long and shivered on back to our car shortly after our ears couldn't take anymore.

I continued to ponder, "What the hell and I thinking going to Grindstone100?" This was one crazy 50mile training run.
How does this race apply to GrindStone100?
Because this race was the prelude for what was coming. It scared the hell out of me with doubts and physical challenges. I am grateful that it did. And I was even more grateful that day to chase Evie's feet through flowing water to get the hell out of there before dark.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Spirit Arrow?

Spiritual energy formed into the shape of an arrow that is capable of injuring and/or killing spiritual beings.

I am three weeks out from Grindstone 100,  and if I haven't doubted myself enough I had a freak accident three days ago. 

I was on my last double day of 20 miles with my run buddy, Evie, and jumped into the roadside woods for a pee break at mile 10. It happens, and what are you going to do about it? I heard a car drive up and Evie was talking friendily to whoever. I was waiting for the car to leave and couldn't tell who it was, and decide to just move on with it and come out. She was talking to a Law Officer! That's right I walked out and was greeted by sheriff deputy, who gave me a loud speaker greeting with Evie chuckling.

I was about 5 feet from the road, walking through the tall weeds and grass—when I felt it. A sharp stabbing pain in the front inside of my shin and my leg got a little stuck. I saw a sage green color of a tube and thought I stupidly hit on some sort of wire. I looked down again and saw some blood. By the time I reached the vehicle and said hello I could feel more stinging and pain and when I looked down I saw a longer and deeper cut than what I had thought was there. More blood was coming out now and I knew I needed stitches. 

I hobble over to the gravel side of the road dialing my husband with one hand and covering my leg with the over. He was on his way and the officer got out his medical kit, offered me a seat in the back of his car, and taped and bandaged me while I waited for my husband. Evie blotted blood from my shoes which I now refer to as "my bloody shoes. Oh bloody hell!" The officer and her assured me that this was nothing. It would be 5 stitches and a ugly scar.

The weapon of mass destruction's tip size
in relation to my thumb. It's a full arrow.
The officer then went looking for the weapon of mass destruction and I stood up pointing and hobbling to where I came through and we were just about on it when we found it...an arrow with a rusty tip meant to tear through an animal was sticking straight up pointing to the sky with its sage green shaft pushed into the ground. He stated that there was no way I could have ever seen that. That made me feel a little less stupid. He said that he had never seen a single arrow left like that before. That makes two if us!

On the plus side that I am really reaching for now,
I had a great ER doctor that stitched my leg with 5 stitches on top—spread for drainage—with two more layers of stitching below. This wound was deep and I probably got lucky I was told, as it could have cut through my calf if the arrow was more slanted. The doctor was also a trail runner and he understood what I needed and said although he would tell me to rest it, he knew I would push it. Yup, I had the right doctor for the job. I was in and out of the ER in less than 2 hours. That's amazing!  

I am currently recovering wearing a compression sock over my bandage. I haven't run in three days. This is truly a forced taper like I have NEVER done. And that means yes, I am still in for Grindstone 100. The other BAMR running Grindstone 100 reeled me in yesterday the we were discussing the last long runs and that the 20 miler I had on schedule would be extremely high and wear any runner out too much before a race. So the joke is, maybe that is what I have been doing wrong!

I am sore. I am hobbling around right now, but I have to have faith that not even a Spirit Arrow is going to take me down. I wouldn't be that "Special Kind of Crazy Hall of Fame" BAMR if I flaked out now after every other sacrifice I have made. Just like when I run repeats, it's time to recover on the downhill…recover, recover, recover…

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Kettle Moraine, WI: Oh My QUAD!

The shirt I really should own!
I can't help but to feel disappointed at making it 77 miles and dropping due to the time cut-off to the next aid station and back and some blown out quads. And at the same time, I know when I am beat, and I have a new sense of what matters to me in these challenges. There will always be that unknowing sense of where I will end up and what will happen on the course. That's part of the appeal in the adventure for me and I think most ultra runners as well. I am not in it to win it. Amazingly enough, that has never happened. I am in it to do the best I can with what is dealt and it's going to be a ROUGH challenge. I expect it.

By mile 77, my quads were shot and there was no way I could make the splits happen without out-of-control descending down rocks. Every step down screamed and I was taking the downward slopes and rocky steps straight legged at this point. I still had the power climbing ability—probably thanks to the Jacob's Ladder training. But the stepping down reached beyond my pain threshold and continuing on and trying to catch myself through the rockiest part would have become dangerous and like having no brakes in a getaway car. I just want to remind myself of the reality of that as I write this. The "in hindsight" we do after a race plays tricks and amnesia alters the severity of what was reality in these experiences.

Although Evie, my BFF pacer, didn't want me to know the cut-offs and still go thru the next section regardless, my other pacer, Gina, pointed out that I couldn't even bend my legs which became extremely laughable in my mind. Literally running down hill and rocks with pencil legs. I knew that the crazy needed to be pushed no further. One hematoma with a longer recovery has been enough for this runner's life time. And the thought of crashing down? I think I might have fainted from the pain that could have caused, because these brakes called "quad"s were completely stripped, close to none existent—GONE.
Sunset from our cabin the night before and me making avocado sandwiches the morning of the race.

THE START and the Nitty Gritty

The day started off with me very calm. There was nothing else I could have done in that moment and maybe being my second 100 miler, I have already learned to just chill. We woke up in the smelly mothball cottage (the smell was enough to make me run to the start line!) on a near by lake that was just 8 minutes from the start. The closeness and lake view was the best part. I booked it on VRBO which actually was everything I expected besides the surprise disclaimer when we got there of, "Don't take long showers" or flush the toilet often. I believe the manager's exact words were, "If it's yellow let it mellow. If It's brown, flush it down." Uuuu, yuck.

Upon awakening, I made avocado sandwiches with low glycemic bread while Evie made the grilled cheese sandwiches. The final items were packed in my over stuffed packs with pickle juice, date samoa balls, GUs, VESPA, coconut water, Tailwind, coconut coffee shots, Starbuck protein coffees, ginger candle, Pepto tabs, vinegar and salt chips, chocolate, socks, clothing, bandages and a couple safety pins—prepare for everything and anything. That is ultra. My crew, of Evie and my husband, were meeting me about every other aid station where they were permitted and assisting me with my bags. I was welcoming the help this time. It's a hard lesson to learn.

The night before we tried to pick up my bib and I was told we were 2 minutes too late even though our phones said it wasn't 7:00. Apparently there is a strict cut-off for obtaining a bib and it's at the discretion of one person's watch. It didn't feel very welcoming at all. But trying to stay positive we tucked out tail between out legs and moved on down the road.
Left to Right:
Bib pick up: Picking up my bib the morning of the race since I was told I couldn't pick it up 2 minutes after 7:00 pm the night before. Our phones showed it wasn't 7:00 yet but apparently packet pick up is on race time to who ever works the station. These cut-offs are serious! Don't mess with them!
Bag drop: My husband and pacer Evie at the start. These bags are over the bag drop size described in the manual. Note for next time to ignore stated size in manual.
First 10k into the race: a happy moment eating oranges and fueling.

Insert Mantra: First 50 miles, do no harm

They sent us off in a mob of 100k and 100m runners down a wide two-track surrounded by some of the tallest and greenest trees I had been by. I felt a little like a hobbit. I didn't know who was in the 100m vs 100k without asking. I started out easy—real easy. While other people raced down the hills, I pulled back. About 20+ miles in, right before entering the meadows another runner was feeling sick, so I gave him my Pepto. I was feeling great. I was sorry it was covered in GU gel, but individually wrapped and safe. ICK!

I enjoyed the conversations about running with several runners. It's always a running interview. Come to find out, Pat and I had the same training plan from Relentless Forward Progress. He is in his 50s and has completed a few 100s. I felt like we were paced well, but after mile 31 things became more challenging and I got a little nauseated in the woods. I lost him and Steve. Pat was obviously stronger than me. I am not sure why the nausea happened yet again—the whole nauseation thing blows my mind since I don't get sick training.  I have also never seen so many other ill people on the side of the trail taking a time out. I ended up fighting in and out of this state for the rest of the race, but more so in the heat of the day. It was 80s with high humidity of 90% or more. Not a good mix. I ended up placing ice in my hat, shirt, and light neck gaiter from INKnBURN. The ginger candy seems to really help calm my sick feeling, but then I needed to GU and was sick all over again. GU...how I hate you. I think we need to separate.

Side note: As noted by my pacer, Evie, this race was easy to navigate through as a crew member. They had no problem finding the stations and they even allow the pacers access to food and drink at the stations.

I began really looking forward to when I would run with Evie and by mile 44 I had lost my banked 30 minutes. IT WAS HOT IN THE MEADOW coming back in the sun. I hiked the heck out of much of the meadow at under a 15 minute mile pace up and down the mowed path. It's a very runable part,but damn the sun was beating us down now. I started having to use the porta potty more. And the fun just kept on rolling. I had two blisters that needed popping and duct tape was the best remedy after the blister pads failed to stick well with my sweat—I did pack everything.

Insert Mantra: I can take it.

I picked Evie up a little behind schedule and we were off on the trail. I can't tell you how great it is to have a pacer pointing out the rocks, tree roots and bumps as the sun goes down. The trail is not really that technical but every little bit of assistance helps as the heavy forest made it seem a lot darker than it was, and the sun started going down.

Insert Mantra: I can take it.

We kept on going and about mile 55 I really noticed my quads aching on the steps downward. It was painful! Fast speed forward and we were at the Nordic Trail Head—the start and finish for mile 63. I saw the Director and asked him about cutoffs. I didn't know what time it was since my watch failed hours before, but I knew I was off. We were under the cut off by 31 minutes and had to hustle now to get back out! This was awful news. Beat the clock was on! I changed clothes remembering the freezing issue I went thru at Superior and we headed back out. The Director hollered, "100 miler going back out!" and the crowd cheered and blinking lights and sirens when off. They do know how to make it exciting.

Although we were running, we went back to a speed walk and Evie made calls on the trail to tell my husband and next pacer, Gina, where we were and to find out how much time we had.We saw two head lamps ahead and one looked like he was aiding the other just by the way they were huddled and not moving. They started running as we approached and as we were next to them, Evie asked if the one that had the movement of a non-pacer—slow and weak—if he was running the 100 mile. His response was, "Bite me!" Apparently the hours of "good job," "keep it up," "great work," "way to go," from other runners had broken him.

I was looking right at him at this point, feeling disbelief from his answer and seeing someone in pretty bad shape. His pacer was very chatty and Evie and him went ahead of us running in conversation. As we went up a small hill I noticed the runner had disappeared and I called to his pacer that if he was with that guy, he had lost him back there somewhere. He quickly thanks me and headed back to find him.

We approached Bluff where I picked up Gina, my old college roommate, who had been waiting too long—which I am truly sorry about—but she was in great spirits and we set off to try to get through the next couple of aid stations in 3:40. I knew it would be hard to do as I wasn't moving well. The forest rockiness was more than I could keep up with at night and in the pace we needed. Just keep moving…I began really doubting making it and even getting to Rice Lake and then I thought if I had to continue just to see the sun come up I would. I was at a point of just enjoying her company.

She was really taken back by how cheery and happy people are in an ultra. Yes we paid to suffer, and we embraced it to an extreme point.Well, most of us anyways…I wondered if "Bite me" man dropped.

Side note: It wasn't so great when headlamps were coming in fast at us with the 38 mile fun run going on. Trying to not get knocked over on a single track trail, at night, after a full day of running was the last obstacle I wanted to deal with. 

Evie, myself and Gina at the end of my voyage at mile 77.
It's going to be okay. I am so grateful that these two were there.

THE FINISH, but not my end…

Gina and I talked the entire time. We heard the birds awaken before the sun was up and saw a Luna moth fly in front of our headlamps and land near us on the trail. It was way cool. The frogs croaked and owls hooted thru the early a.m. We were now so far behind that the sun was coming up as we
headed in to HWY12. At roughly 22hours and 30 minutes I was 77 miles in and out of time to to get to Rice Lake and back.The aid station leader was unbelievable. He was energetic and wasted no time to tell me how great I had done just to reach his station.
Mantra burned. My quads can not take it.

To my husband's relief, he didn't have to rush me through 11 miles of rockiness. He said he didn't know how he would have done that anyways. His eyes were bloodshot from being up 26 hours and he wasn't feeling well. He didn't look well either. It takes a lot to crew and stay awake too—physically, mentally and emotionally. He did great. But let's take a moment and laugh now at the fact that I WAS THE ONE RUNNING THE ENTIRE TIME.

100k buckle if you make the cut-off. The Kettle Moraine recognizes the
effort while other races do not and the runner gets NOTHING.
When I approached the Co-Race Director, Tim Yanacheck at the start line to claim my buckle instead of the kettle, my husband commented to him that he personally had never had an all-nighter even in college...that was just funny to watch him say that looking like a pale ghost with bloodshot eyes—and I wish I had it on video. Again, here are all these ultras up all night and running huge distances, feeling as alive as they can in the moment. That's ultra living.

Tim proudly and sensitively handed me the 100k belt buckle and said, "I know this isn't the metal you wanted. I'm sorry." I felt he truly was sincere empathized for all of us who did not have the finishing race we worked for—all 46% of us that registered for 100m and fell short for what ever reason. I love the fact that this race is so different that they want you to walk away feeling like a winner for putting it all out there.

A friend of mine told me that not everyone can finish 100 miler. I am not sure that's true but began pondering it that day because amnesia had not set in yet. So much has to come together at once just like hitting a PR or barely squeaking in to Boston as some do—not this girl, but some do.

My dear man who encourages and has my
back and ass in this cra cra adventure called ultra
even though all-nighters are NOT his thing.
I could really beat myself up over this one—and you know I will—because I know where the bottom fell out and where I felt the weakest points and I certainly thought I could finish it...Oh my QUADS! I had dropped hill repeats and strength training—as in squats—from my training to focus on mileage and climbing. That was a mistake for a 100 mile trail run. I need it all! Trekking Poles may have saved some quad strength as well. And as Gina suggested when I picked yer up on the trail, "Can you stretch?" "OUCH!!! It was far too late. I should have tried that sooner.

I walked away really enjoying this particular race and I have thoughts to come back. The course is all trail like I expected it to be and they really did have all the aid stations packed with all the items they promised. The volunteers were A-MAZING! 77 miles isn't 100 but it's far more than where I dared to dream 7 years ago. I left it all out there with what I had on that day with my body blowing up before my mind.

So here I go again…making this average Jill train like a bat shit crazy mother runner, because amnesia set in a day later. It's called Resilience as well and it's the best thing I got.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Numbers that MATTER

10, 6, 10, 20, 2 = this week's mileage heading into a true taper
2500, 1500, 1500, 2000 =  this week's ladder steps on Jacob's Ladder
5 - 6 = the hours of sleep I get nightly
4:00 = the hour I wake up to get my training in
7:00 = the time I get home to be there when my kids wake up and fix their lunches
9:00 = the time I need to be somewhere to volunteer for another race
2 = number of children Spring concerts to attend
40 = the hours I have to work in a week
3 = the soccer games I need to get my kids to
5 = the practices I need to get my kids to
4 = the number of drop bags I need to put together
3 = the number of pacers I have coming to support me
1 = the number of pre-races left (half marathon Memorial weekend)
1 = the number of child races to attend
16 = the number of days I have left until I leave to take on the Kettle Moraine 100
1= the first panic attack I just gave myself making this list

Numbers that Don't Matter:
Whatever the scale says I weigh. Fuck that shit!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Shifting Gears in 2016

Since Superior—which I will just keep referring to as the mountain of rock in my heart—I have been focusing on what I need to do to make my 100 mile conquest a reality. It's been a lot of mental mojo as well as making dietary changes to show up in the best shape possible. Extra weight, although not the only issue, is an issue over the course of 100 miles. I am the detour and road block in my own plan. I have read more written lately on the endless calories available to burn in fat already stored on our bodies if we change the way our bodies burn fuel. I have read more about elites having a high fat and high protein diet as of late. And so my journey has begun to get out of my own damn way.

Dialing My Plan with -12.5 lbs and Counting

So after allowing myself a good wallow with my pals Hershey, Reese's, Mallo Cup, KitKat, and cup cake for the rest of the month of September and into part of October, I knew I was ready to clean up my act and start again. I cut processed sugar and brought my carbs down to under 40 grams a day starting the week before Halloween. It was either going to be the best or worst sabotaging idea ever. It turned out to be the best. I did not partake in any of the candy loot my kids hauled home. I repeat, I had NONE. I was tired the first two weeks on training runs, but then I started to feel the clarity found deep into the miles of a race and walking away from carbs became very easy. I have tracked everything with the free version of the MyFitnessPal app. I aim for 120 to 150 grams of protein a day and follow a calorie deficit diet of 1,200 calories. If I gain calories through fitness, I log it in the app and eat it.
To reach the grams of protein I need, I have an optional protein shake called Trutein. It's a high quality whey, casein and egg white protein and doesn't taste like metal like many other protein shakes. I enjoy the Peanut Butter Marshmallow Cookie and Smores the most.  I can't say my running speed it there yet in changing my nutrition, but there is a clarity. It took me months to unload the 14 pound haul of candy between the kids in the form of cookies and brownies scattered to friends and family.

All of which I continued to not eat. I have become that jerk that shows up at gatherings, only eating specific foods. I eat out at Mexican restaurants and don't eat a single chip. I know… who does that? Certainly not this girl before. Everyone else benefits from having my french fries, rice, beans and potatoes, And guess what, it's been worth it! I actually saw a lot of hoopla on the internet promoting people to just enjoy the festivities with food. But I disagree. My goals mean more than the two months of gorging to find the jaded friend named Disappointment waiting on January 1. Happiness is far from the cookie table for this woman. I did allow myself three special treats during the holidays; I had a pumpkin bar at Thanksgiving that wasn't too sugary and was very enjoyable. I made a black forest cake that was to die for at Christmas. I had a piece of that, duh! And I did have a butter popcorn meal while watching the new Star Wars movie—because that's what makes me happy at a movie theatre that I attend less than once every couple years.

I seem to have made up for my not eating all the other stuff through the rest of 2015, with baking it for everyone else. For their weight gain, I apologize. By mid-December I was down 11.5 pounds. And have added another 2 pound loss since. For the first time ever (ever is just 7 years in this runner's life), I do not have to re-lose the same 10 pounds before the Bayshore marathon in May. In fact, I am below the weight I usually am for the marathon. This year I am running the half marathon the week before I head to Wisconsin to kill that Kettle Moraine 100. And by "kill," I mean survive with a solid, healthy finish where my mind isn't completely blown, and I feel like I have a little more to give in the end. Yeah, that's the dream.

Geared-In Training

Jacob's Ladder is there to make
my heartrate zip. Just try it out for three minutes.
You will survive.
A couple weeks ago I explored the Jacob's Ladder. I need to be in peak cardio fitness and lift my legs more. I saw the Jacob's Ladder on a Facebook page a year ago and have been wanting to try one out since. I found one at out local YMCA. My heartrate flew to 170 quickly. It's total body engagement climbing a ladder like a fireman. It goes as fast you you make it go since there is no motor except the operator.

As a comparison, when I run hill repeats in the snow my rate is 160. Probably lower because I am taking more time on foot placement. I will be spending more time Jacob's Ladder to work on endurance and lifting my legs, as well as including more snow hill repeats which were exuberating. I need to work on my footwork skills and concentration of landing. That's a fact. I set my timer on my camera as I ran them and started to play beat the clock to the bottom as well as take a few up hill images. By taking images of myself running, I can see my lack of control with my left arm that crosses over way too much, which is wasted energy. It's an issue I am working on correcting. I have to consciously pull my right arm back and forth, like I am going to reach in my back pocket. It helps me correct the left. I am sure deep in a race, I will probably think "screw it, just run."

A little game of beat the clock (or timer) during winter hill repeats in Steampunk INKnBURN attire which seemed appropriate to get my butt in gear or shifting gears on a winter hill in Michigan.
One of the exciting parts about taking my "getting my butt in gear" photos is that I ended up with one gem. It has appeared on the INKnBURN website as a rotating photo, FB home page and Instagram. Hill repeats in the winter in Michigan is currently seen all over the world. With all the beautiful worldly photos they have to pick from, this is an honor to represent the brand in this way and illustrate that I am on my way in 2016 to believe it, live it and for crying out loud—finish it!!
The INKnBURN website page where my winter hill repeats in Michigan made the rotating home page.

And with that, I suggest a new song for anyone's play list. I dedicate this to hill repeats: Sia: Unstoppable

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Stars Upon Thars And None Upon Ours…

Superior 100 brought to mind the Dr. Suess tale of the Star Belly Sneeches. Star Bellies thought they were better than those Sneeches without stars according to the children's story, and then one day those with none bought theirs so they could be equal to the Star Belly Sneeches. It starts an on again, off again sequence until no one can tell who is who anymore.

Superior 100 has created an elite club of finishers awarded the sought after black sweatshirt where each year the finishers earn a star patch to be placed on the arm of their single lifetime hooded sweatshirt. It's quite incredible to be able to say that one has finished this particular race. Unlike the stars in the Dr. Suess story, these stars are earned with sweat, perseverance, and sometimes blood. The director, John Storkamp, referred to the stars during the mandatory check-in meeting as a "sticker collection."

Clockwise from top: The elite star sweatshirt | Myself howling behind the 1st place finisher trophy at the mandatory meeting | One of my drop bags | On the bus with my coffee where Evie stepped on to take my picture like it was my first day of school. Which coincidently, Sawtooth did school me.
For some runners the sweatshirt/sticker collection really is a strong motivation as I heard throughout the race. Past club members were wearing their stars at the check-in meeting, and my run buddy and I felt like the outsiders…because we were outsiders! We had no stars and others who have ran this race several years had at least one star or a fews down their arm. They pretty much hung with past finishers that they have known through the years. We did briefly talk to one star wearer who was very friendly to us outsiders, but that ended as previous runners connected with their pack. I was glad to have Evie there to cut through the seriousness. I didn't see anyone else posing near the first place finisher award, but it was worth it for the photo of me howling like a wolf.

The day before the race, I had been all nerves the entire day even though we took a brief hike and played tourist around a small town. I felt like I was hopped up on caffeine and jittery. We had ran into some of the trail markers at dinner at our hotel. They didn't exactly give us a reassurance of making it through this race. Instead, we felt judged by the looks on their faces and disbelief that we were in this race. HMMM didn't I have a qualifying race already? Did I really need to prove myself just to be here? One guy called us "trolls" because we lived below the Mackinac bridge in Michigan. Yep, that is all he had to say to us. So I am just going to have to say it…I thought he was a prick. And come to find out he is a bit of a running celebrity in Minnesota. Bravo! Feel my sarcasm. While the other gentlemen had some insights to the race course including where the 2 feet of water was, John Horn had more words to share. I listened up to any advice he had to give. He's legendary having won the 100 and marathon distances in previous years and was going for the 50…which he did win the Grand Master's and take 3rd overall this year as well. Wow, just wow. He said, "This race is a character builder. That's for sure." His apprehension didn't settling me at all. I had never anticipated a race in this way before. 100 miles is a big deal, and Superior is a beast.

As the Director took a pole of past DNF runners coming back to finish this raise, it revieled a 7-10 person field of hands being raised. Some had multiple attempts at Superior 100 in the past, as I met one on the course who would finish it this year after two previous years of stopping half way and past mile 60. And why do they come back after such an ass kicking? I wish I had asked him his reason. And then asked what it felt like when he knew he was going to make it. I think that would be one of the most revealing and exciting insights of an ultra runner's mental strength.
Right before starting with the sun coming up. 

The Starting Line:
The starting line was completely different from the check-in meeting. People were very socialable and one mother approached me and said she wanted my name on her shirt because her daughter was running it and she was rooting for us women. What a cool way to support your daughter and female runners.

My mother was in Michigan hoping I wouldn't start, maybe get lost on my way to the start line, or at least drop out early. I'm just speaking the truth here and this is what I have dealt with all my life.

I spoke with several experience 100 miler finishers and a couple first time attempters like myself. It's all very exciting. I was glad I brought my own coffee, because the coffee that was suppose to be there had a coffee machine malfunction. So I think some people were hurting.

Note: For the first time ever there were no restroom lines for ladies. There are that few of us.

Starting out in the race I met a woman from Holland, Michigan. We cruised and chatted thru the first few miles until we hit the trail where I was immediately was aware of her trail skills that were superior to mine, and I fell back. I wasn't even going to try to keep up with that! She had finished this race before and her trail experience was evident. I was much more cautious on the loose plates of stone and running up and down large loose rocks. I watched the foot work of other runners and could tell that their shoes were sticking surprisingly well on the curved larger boulders on mountain tops.

Examples of the trail and views. Not all of these are mine as my mind was busy.  I wish I had photographed the triple "XXX" glowing signs at night that my headlamp would catch. "Don't go off that ledge!"
Much of the trail is running on top of mountain rock (climbing up and down uneven rocks—top to bottom, and up again). It's similar to running on asphalt in the comparison that there is no cushion and higher impact unlike a forest padded ground trail—very much unlike the Michigan trails I have ran on. One runner commented that he thought it was worse than asphalt and his knees were hurting. The curve of the rocks wreaked havoc on my ankles in one particular stretch, so much so that I removed the small heel gels in my shoes. That helped stop the rocking and pain. The other balance of the trail includes a lot of roots that are high enough that it was hard to run. I literally hugged trees in areas to stable myself. I did run on a lot of sections I normally would have never ran on to keep a better pace. I usually embrace the walk but found myself embracing the run where I could. It was really hard to find the "happy" in running on such a challenging course where my mind could not really check out. It's a the vary reason some people hate trail running—you can not check out without suffering the consequences. Put it this way, this trail is so technical that I didn't even consider turning on my headset until mile 35. It wasn't even a thought. It takes A LOT of concentration, and exertion to climb up and down larger rocks, boulders, fallen trees and walk the planks. Arg, captain! And then there's the slipper thick mud sections.

Not one of my photos but
illustrates one of  the many
hillside,  rocky trails down
 that need careful attention.
This trail was not only beautiful from the views of climbing mountain after mountain, but the sounds of water rushing over falls and down streams were like poetic music with the added clatter of runners on slate rocks, which sounded like running on broken plates as percussion. I missed a lot of the beauty in keeping my eyes on the trail. Although I had read about sections, experiencing it in the moment was surreal and never being on this trail before, I thought it just seemed more like one loooong trail with similar sections of constant obstacles. There were trees that had fallen over in the trail to be either crawled under or straddle over, and swampy areas with either slippery thick mud, water, or areas that actually had plank boards to cross. The planks were awesome until I found some wobbly ones some where between 11 pm and midnight.  I thought, "If I fall here, I'm going to REALLY be hurt on all those boulders below. Who would find me?"

Descending down the rocky sides was nothing that I could just run down. I purposely left space between myself and any other runner. One man with poles, fell behind me down a rock decent. I asked how he was and he assured me that me was okay. Although, he looked like a rag doll sprawled on the rocks.

On the trail, I met runner who had hired an elite coach to get thru this race. He said he had DNF-ed another race, but made it thru another 100 in June. But for this race, he hired a coach. Training food for thought.

L-R: Aid station equipped with a bowl of salt tabs |  Running along the slate plates | My husband crewing me at mile 20 and my run buddy Evie as well.  I was feeling nauseated at this time and that didn't go away.
I waited too long to wear the Calavera INKnBURN singlet this year. That shirt deserves a party!

It was at about 40+ miles and in the dark that I started to lose faith in making it thru the cut-offs. I made a few mistakes. I had been making the cutoffs, yes. And had read enough reports that I knew not to be going any faster than a 17 minute pace. My goal was to just finish this. I had some miles in the dark that were getting quite a bit slower and I didn't keep in mind that they take that into account thru the night. I then thought about the time goals I had set, which were based on an individual that knew this course. That became silly in that moment.  I was alone in the dark looking for the trail and reflectors. Although I enjoyed the dark running, the slower speed was playing games with my mind. So mistake number one, was that I lost my faith and did math on the course. Later the next day Robyn, a fellow INKnBURN Ambassador, point that out. "Never do math on the course." Uhg! She was right.

I also had a few physical things going on. I had been feeling nauseated since mile 20. I can't explain why to this day. But I will be experimenting more with using just Tailwind. I had to chew Pepto tabs from 20 miles on, which helped a little. The only thing that I could consume that went down well was Starbucks DoubleShot Coffee & Protein that was in my bag. If there had been warm food options that would have been appealing too. But each time I went to the aid stations there was no coffee, and all the promised hot food was gone. Right before I entered County Road 6, the last grilled cheese sandwiches were consumed. My crew had asked if there was hot food waiting and there was when they asked, but some took more than there share according to the workers right before I arrived. I wasn't the last person, so there really wasn't enough.

There was a frost advisory and I did not change my clothes before dark. I added layers but that wasn't enough. I should have changed at Tettegouche where my husband had met me. That was a HUGE mistake. I was soaked through and freezing every time I slowed or stopped at aid stations. There really should be a changing area or sheet hung. Women especially need to change. There's something that isn't talked about enough. Wearing a wet bra and underwear froze-me-out with the frosty temps. By the time I reached mile 51 at the Finland aid station, I just felt like I didn't want to go on between the burning in my legs, nausea, and feeling absolutely frozen. Hand warmers would have been a key item to pack in hindsight.

My legs were burning from the knees down. Not that I didn't expect pain, but I was going with the thought of do no harm the first 50 miles….well harm was happening anyways. I really couldn't tell if I was injured, causing injury or what. I knew I had trained for a 100 miler—but not this one! I met people in the dark on the trail pausing on the fallen trees or larger rocks—resting and just breathing. One guy moved as though he had hurt his arm badly as he shuffled along. The constant up and down stepping is nothing like running on a padded path or road running—different muscles in. I had not use the restroom all day. I couldn't tell if I had to go or not. At one point I thought, "Great, now I am peeing myself." I later found I had started my period.

The number one reason I stopped at Finland 51.2 miles (17 hours): I lost my "why".  I lost the ability to talk myself "IN" to going on and seeing how far I could go. The suffering for another 20+ miles and then getting thrown off the course, didn't feel worth it. I became reliant on seeing my husband which I wouldn't have seen for another 11 miles. That would have been hours away. Never having a crew before, the support was overwhelming, yet I needed them. Maybe it was just easier for me to stick my heels in and stop because it was him. He was in a bit of shock to hear me say, "I'm done"—words I have never said when it matters. He did everything he was suppose to do in pleading with me to keep going because I was still running and others were dragging and limping. I was frozen, and when he told me to sit in the heated vehicle, it was all over in my head and physically. It's all on me.

Several runners I conversed with along the course were strongly motivated by the thought of the sweatshirt. It wasn't motivation for me at all—not in conversation and not at the moment I dropped.  I let go of all the 4 a.m. wakeup calls I had all summer that said I could do this. I questioned whether I had enough baggage to overcome the suffering and if I wanted that baggage. And I felt for what ever reason that I had learned everything I could in the moment. I felt fulfilled in the moment. The worse part was I felt like I really let my crew down and anyone that had believed in me. Guilt. Never having a crew before I was overwhelmed by the assisted love. Even one of the Ragnar BAMRs I met in D.C. showed up, and I was touched. I was disappointed in not being able to run with her in the morning.
This was a butt kicker: the course and mental let down.

The next day I phone my kids and talked to my mother, and she was rejoicing that I DNF-ed. THAT annoyed me to no end. I thought, "Geese, if I had talked to her last night. I would have kept going!" Nothing motivates my like proving people wrong. I was pissed at myself. Cue cards for ALL next time!

Later that morning we went to meet Evie to support her on the course. She was running the 50 miler and we joked that between us we would have the course 100% covered, but she was already getting bumped at mile 26.7 Cramer Road. She wasn't making the cut-off. She was moving along, but on this course, you have to move faster. It was a kick in the teeth. She wanted to go on, but was swept. It's the just another reality of this race. She has finished many ultras, so it isn't like she isn't capable. While waiting I watched Robyn work the aid station and talk a man back into the 50 mile race that thought he had a broken rib. OMG, broken rib guy went on! I instantly wish she had been at Finland last night.

This DNF may be just the baggage I need to come back. It burns on long after the race is over. Superior has left a mountain of rock in my heart. I think every runner will get "their one that got away" experience. This ONE is mine. I knew going into this that if I could finish it, I could do anything. So the race and work goes on. Afterwards with the experience fresh in my head, another runner friend with more experience messaged me and told me she had DNFed one time and she came back to show that trail who was boss and that's what I would too. I told her, "not this race." But less than a week later, I knew she was right. I can't let go of that mountain that Superior left in my heart. Character building? Indeed. I'll be back—rock solid, amnesia and all.

Hiking views of Lake Superior and trail falls

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eyes on the Prize

Back at North Country (wearing the hat we received) and ready to
take another hit in the a.m. Don't we look ready?
"Eyes, eyes, eyes," is the chant I kept repeating—sometimes out-loud—while running the North Country Marathon Run. This year I went down to 26.2 instead of the 50 mile Ultra in preparation for my first attempt at a 100 mile race. It's hard to write that without my heart-rate increasing with a panic. It's hard to sound completely sure as well, when yeah, I know, that is a really BIG number!

North Country Run was just too close in timing to run the 50 this year. I had followed my plan and I was not going to sabotage it. I had no other goal this year other than to:

walk the hills at a quick manageable pace,
 run when the trail would give it to me,
 stay comfortable,
 and above all … keep my eyes on the trail and try to avoid a threatening fall like last year's hematoma bamboozal

I kept my speed and tempo well in control and although it would have been nice to hit 5:10 at mile 25 like last year, I decided not to pace myself by time. The thought of "don't be a dick," entered my mind more than once. Meaning, don't push like I want to place while forgetting that this is a practice challenge for the race of my life—as it spans in the next month anyways. Nothing would matter if I hit the ground and can't run.

This was the first time I ran the marathon at North Country. I have complete the 50 twice and the half marathon once. This race felt different from the get-go. People were not as social as in the 50. I missed it within the first 2 miles. Maybe it's the speed that some people try to put out, but it's a trail so just chill.

I decided in the first mile to run by feel. 26.2 is still a marathon and in the woods on a trail, it's still a long voyage. I actually looked at my watch twice the entire race. Once to see why I was feeling "stuck" behind the conga line going too slow at 14 minute miles—which I passed to move on—and one other time to check the miles when a couple runners were talking about us being less than 8 miles from the finish, which I knew they had to be wrong. It was more like 10 plus! I really didn't want to think of numbers, but since they threw it out there, I was compelled to look. Numbers, numbers, numbers…

Within the first 4 miles my run buddy Evie hit the dirt. POOF! A reminder that this is a trippy ride. When I heard the action behind me I had flashbacks of last years' tumble. She hollered that she was alright. That would be her one and only fall that day. Although we started out together I lost her around the first aid station. I waited up and snacked practicing my ultra fueling—don't rush just fuel. When we set out again, I lost her beyond a bees' ground nest which stung me and the runners following. My shin was immediately hurting, and I thought of my son who was stung twice the previous week. I decided that if I was focusing on this pain then my IT band wouldn't be nagging me at all if it decided to be vocal—pretty much exactly what happened.

Further down, I stepped out of the conga line I was in to see how Evie was doing. My pace was feeling really good, but I wanted to make sure she wasn't in misery somewhere out there. She had settled in with the "party bus" led by a guy in a kilt who was blasting music thru the forest. She told me I didn't need to wait up. I ran with her to the next aid station and then kept my comfortable pace for the rest of the race.

When I broke away from other runners—that weren't talking anyways—I felt that familiar freedom I had the first time I ran the 50. I can't describe the joy I feel at these moments and the conversations in my head. And the conversations I have with God for that matter. "You know how much I need this. Just don't let me fall," I asked. Running is a spiritual event.

"Just don't excel," I told myself. "Eyes eyes, eyes on the trail … slow… control down the hills." I struck my foot around three times on roots, rocks and a very narrow path with moss. No falls, but again little reminders. Note: Narrow trails make the Hokas feel clumsy, but I wouldn't wear anything else for comfort.

I revisited locations I wiped-out last year after that giant hematoma impaired my leg. I recognized the changing forest sections I had ran through in previous years and felt reconnected with the fern forest, pines, hardwoods, and hills. In the last 11 miles, I was surprised I had so much juice left. I was cranking along and reeling runners in and saw some at aid stations who looked whipped. In the last 6, I continued to push thru at the same speed passing quite a few half marathoners and some marathoners as well. I actually felt like this wasn't fair. I have been training for a 100. Granted I had a long running week, no taper and needed 15 miles the next day, I still had a lot left in the tank this day.

One larger gentleman running in the half marathon stands out in my mind who was waiting at the top of a hill for his wife. As I cruised up to him he shouted, "You're awesome!" I replied, "YOU, are awesome!" That is the way it's suppose to be.

"Eyes, eyes. eyes." Keeping my vision on the trail. I thought for sure I would cry if I didn't fall this year. But instead, when I saw that last hill, I had a high. Down the hill and one last mile loop on a flatter trail. That was all I had to do now. And there was Dena and Brian waiting to cheer us on! People make the race! They would have their's tomorrow in another half marathon. What a journey they were in for!

I did excelerate in the final mini, mile loop. The only moment I would feel like my heart was pushing through my chest. "Come on Ultra, don't let go," I thought. Power to the head talk!

Final Score: 
Jill: 26.2
Falls: 0

Clockwise from top left: Showing the finisher medal because we are goofy | The age group award patch that also doubles as a beer tray | Evie checking the placements and she did excellent as well | The SWEET patch that now needs a special sweat shirt!
And to top it off, when I did check my time after retrieving a beer, catching up with Dena and Brian while cheering for more runners coming in—which we saw a lot of dirty knees and bodies from taking some spills on course—I learned that I had placed 2nd in my age group. 5:17 was worth 2nd place this year out of 12 contenders. It isn't lightening but it is the first placing I have ever had.

First time I ever age group placed. 2nd out of 12.
Kissing my reward patch and holding the enormous finisher medal.
My INKnBURN Flutter singlet must have given me some wings.
North Country is refreshed as my favorite race once more. It isn't the substantial array of goods you get to take home—that I am not even going to talk about. The after party can't even be compared to any other race I have ran. None could compete with it; burgers, veggie burgers, brats, rice, potatoes, corn, beer, dessert, and the list goes on…

The stand-out here is the trail beneath my feet where I get to relax and breath. It's the feeling I get at an over-stocked aid station (every 4 miles!) with friendly and helpful volunteers assisting runners. It's the camaraderie of trail runners (usually) and a race director listening and asking the mentor group and runners for their thoughts on improvements for the next year. It's welcoming.

The "people" blow this one out of the water and it feels like home.