Friday, September 26, 2014

A Race Worth the Trip … If You Can Get Back Up

North Country Run 2014 … How I met Sally

I recently read that if you go out 30 seconds too fast in pace during an ultra, that it can cost you a half hour of finish time later. I can vouch that if you fall at mile 25 on "just the right spot of your knee"—according to the medic—after hitting your goal at 5:11, it can cost you 1.5 to 2 extra hours over the next 25 miles.

This year North Country Run was full of light hearted jabs, from the humor or two shirts, a sweat shirt (which at first glance looked like it read "Idiot runner in the woods"), the medal (I don't recall posing for that, but I could have!), and Evie and my own fun to "tutufy" this Ultra and bring a little femininity flare to a male  dominated sport with a 2 to 1 ratio this year.

Yet the humor was lost on my knee that swelled on that second loop to the size of a full head after tripping on a root on mile 25—I kid you not! Dena, our new run buddy, named it Sally after I said we should draw a face on it. And I have awarded Sally the title of Worst All Time Pacer. Infact, Sally is a nag and stayed with me for two weeks after.

I am sure there are many people who would ask why I didn't stop. And I have even heard some unsolicited negative comments about quitting this sport all together, along with "what are you going to do when you are 70?" All from non-runners, so I am not surprised. I have quickly responded that it isn't the running that will get you, its the falling. Let's get that right on today's quiz. And what will I do when I am 70? Hopefully,  I live to be 70 and am running, hiking and still active in my existance.

I asked myself the same question about taking a DNF during the race, and with each fall—which I am going to admit that there were 6 total—I heard the same inner voice say, "Get Up!" Stopping after training for months for this event seemed out of the question. I can't imagine quitting. Quitting at what felt like an "ouch" fall at 25 miles would have been just ridiculous, lazy and not any kind of example I want to set for my kids. I am not saying that I wouldn't take a DNF if I felt a muscle tear or broken bone. That just isn't what it felt like. My quads felt great with little stress for the miles, and my lungs were strong deep into the last 5 miles. But this This was what I worked hard to achieve—for this feeling of strength and to test if I wanted to seriously consider a 100 mile ultra. My goal was to come in at 10 -11 hours and feel good at the end. Sure there was some serging pain time to time, but more when I wasn't running. And I had some special breathing going on to deal with that. shhh shhh whoooo shhh shh whoooo…

As the bulge grew from softball to human head size with 14 miles left … my footing got tougher and speed became a big issue. My doctor later informed me that with so much fluid (blood) in the area of the knee, it shuts down the outer leg muscles above the knee. Really?! I can't guess to when this really started. Too bad that excuse won't fly for this performance. I did Superman it to begin with. He also ended up draining it after the swelling didn't go down enough for a couple weeks and I just needed to get back to training. The condition is called prepatellar bursitis. Basically, a hematoma.

Down hill became more of an obstacle adventure with the last 7 miles where I could no longer rely on my leg to catch me if I stumbled, which I did. Falling on it two more times during that last 14 miles gave me a surge of pain—that I relived 24/7 in the two weeks that followed.

It's Mental 

Unlike last year, this North Country was hotter and 97% humidity. Another obstacle since this has been a mild summer with cool temps and low humidity. I hardly listened to any music and was not in the same mindset as last year. Thinking about my swelling knee sucked some joy away. Every race is different, but this was a leap into unexpected territory.

I am grateful to have picked up a run buddy, actually two for the first 4 miles of the second loop of 25, until one dropped back to run with Evie. Karen and Theresa showed up to pace and partner us thru this. It was truly a mental race where my mind needed to be distracted from my knee. I couldn't of had a better run partner then Karen—the most BADASS runner I know, and who ran Boston with a fractured leg a few years ago. There is no doubt in my mind that her being there wasn't meant to be.

I believe people are motivated in different ways, and I really didn't need a pity running partner. We talked about many things, but not once about stopping. Even though I feel I do very well as a solo runner plugged into a headset, I was relieved in the last 10 miles when she said she was sticking with me to the end. Why not depend a little more on a support system if it is there? I wasn't looking forward to turning on tunes and going it alone in the dark woods and thinking about Sally. I was frustrated that my knee was not cooperating and I was going to blow past last year's time. But this rag doll, was in it to finish it by this point.

A few volunteers in the last couple aid stations wore shock faces with the horror that drew more attention with the tutu. Karen told them I wasn't aloud to look at it. We laughed and kept moving. Laughter—the key to get through most situations when you are framing your imperfections in a tutu.

While on the course Karen asked me what my husband was going to say when he saw me cross. I thought he may ask me why I didn't stop. A question I have no simple answer to. What is the meaning? He actually did not say a thing! Maybe he just knows me well enough. Why ask why?

When Finishing Turns into Winning

As I finished the race and crossed the line at a disappointing 12:02, and the race director asked how I felt from his microphone, all I could say was "Medic!" Not "terrific," or "amazing" … just "MEDIC!" Yeah, it hurt. I won't admit to most people on the spot how much, but pulling that sock off and getting wrapped with ice made me feel like a cry baby even though I wasn't crying.

One of the biggest surprises was that my body felt under used and challenged. I felt recovered sitting in the sideline chair and ate a burger with my kids around me. No GI issues at all which I usually have if I have pushed. Huh. And that 12:02 finish just blew it by 2 minutes to qualify for some 100 milers. That is one crap-wich. I will save getting too overly upset about for another time. Somewhere along the course finishing became the goal—which is all part of learning to be more flexible in expectations as a runner. I have to be prepared to change the plan.

While on the trail in the first 25 miles I had several conversations with other runners. It was one of the most enjoyable 25 race miles I have ever had. I told one that two years ago I fell in love with this race. I just didn't know how literal this day would take it to extreme. It's still my #1 race for a quality, aided course, with amazing volunteers, and nearly flawlessly put on—those roots could use some painting—gasp! HA!

North Country lost a little magic for me this day because I can't undo that fall. In reflection, I won't quit—can't quit— don't know how. 100 miles … you better believe I am looking right at you with my gimpy leg on the mend, and with Sally just a crazy knee stalking memory. Believe it!

The Right Medical Attention and Support

Ironically, through this crazy event I found a great doctor that gets my focused run commitment without looking at me like I NEED to be committed. And you just might have guessed that he is a runner too. I was dreading to retell the one line tale I have had to repeat every time someone has asked. But when I said it to my new doctor: "I ran a 50 mile trail race and tripped at mile 25, and proceeded to finish," something totally unexpected happened…he first congratulated me on finishing! He laughed when I explained the flight of the fall and landing. I can not stress enough how wonderful it is to find a doctor that I feel actually gets it, and supports my lifestyle because he has experience. He assured me that I would be ready to run a marathon in October, and that he had seen the same injury in football players and hockey players.

Two weeks later he drained my knee and said to "amp it up." I am now back to around 40 miles a week. Still tired from the 50, but I am hopeful that the speed will come again and I can continue to break my own records. Whew!