Monday, July 27, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of My First 50 Miler

The Good:
1. The Race Plan: I just felt like I ran a good, smart race. I had a very conservative start, and still felt relatively strong at the end. I definitely slowed down some in the last 22 miles, but I think I did so well because I was able to keep running for almost the entire way, with the exception of about one steep mile.

2. Troubleshooting: My stomach felt off from very early on. I just remember reading one of the signs of hyponatremia is a stomach that won't empty. I wouldn't have thought it'd be a problem that early since I was drinking sports beverage, eating solids and gels and it was still relatively cool. But I couldn't think why else my stomach would feel so full. So I took 2 S-caps! 45 minutes later, I had emptied my water bottle, but I still felt the same so I took 2 more S-caps! This felt a lot like disobeying the warning on the Ibuprofen bottle, you know the one that says,"Do not take more than six tablets in a 24 hour period without consulting a doctor." I also didn't drink much over the next section, but by the next AS, it seemed like all was good and I even chugged a big cup of ginger ale before heading out.

3. My Loving Husband: I gotta give him big thanks for putting up with my running neurosis. This time was especially hard because he had to take care of the kids in a campground. He's a pretty supportive guy, even though he does a lot of eye rolling when I talk about ultras and despite admitting that when he saw me and Erin (who ended up second), he thought she was definitely going to pass me back and win the race!

4. Camping Before the Race: Several people warned me that this was a bad idea, but I thought it was fun. It was a little challenging with the kids, but I still got a good night's sleep and it felt like the race was more of a weekend get away than just the usual show up, run, and leave routine.

5. Heed: Despite my salt issues, I really liked this beverage, mostly because it wasn't very sweet but it still had more flavor than water.

The Bad:
1. "Wonky" Stomach: I pride myself on an iron stomach so I really didn't like that I had some issues. Fortunately, I was keeping everything down and the problem seemed to resolve after a little intervention.

2. Camping after an Ultra: As much as I liked camping before the ultra, I wasn't so fond of it the second night. There were no showers and a washrag and soap only goes so far! Plus I wanted a soft bed and more milk (we ran out after my second glass - who knew I'd be craving milk?). And dealing with the kids at the campground took a bit more energy than I had after 50 miles.

3. Hacky Cough: I had a dry cough for a few days that felt like what I would imagine asthma to feel like. Too much dust inhalation?? I don't know, but I didn't like it.

4. Nuun: The fizz in this was just all wrong. I am not a fan.

5. Left Shoulder: This was actually my biggest pain after the race; it felt like I had some bursitis or something. I am feeling a lot more comfortable carrying a water bottle, but I am sure I tense up that shoulder too much.

6. Men's Shorts: One of the prizes for the ladies race was a pair of men's shorts!! I hate to be critical of free stuff and I am super grateful to the race directors for putting on such a great race, but this prize is a bit odd!

The Ugly: Unfortunately, it looks like three of my toenails are going to be casualties of this race. My feet are not going to be pretty when they fall off!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Stage Victory for Lance

Holy Effin' Crap! My head is spinning from this weekend's race, The Pacific Crest 50 miler! (The video has nothing to do with running; it is just a special bonus!) Things have certainly been up and down for me over the last couple of months, but Saturday ended up on a very high note, with a victory in the women's race (7:42) and 4th place overall.

We headed out to Clackamas Lake campground very early on Friday because we had failed to secure a reservation and so we were vying for one of the first come first serve spots, which definitely added a layer of stress to the trip. Fortunately, we had no problems getting a site.

The kids took to camp activities readily, which meant they were filthy in about five minutes! We spent the day hanging out at Timothy Lake. Megan did some serious splashing/swimming, but I just put my big toe in and hoped that neither of my kids fell in because I did not want to jump into that icy water! We also walked around the campground a bit and did lots of snacking and eating of camp food. I did get a big plate of spaghetti for dinner, but my pre-race carbo loading also included a Pop-tart and two s'mores (Liam didn't like his and I couldn't let it go to waste!) Not exactly the best diet plan!

By bedtime we had about four days' worth of caked on dirt, sunscreen, bug spray and general filth, though we had only been there about ten hours! I did get to bed super early since the kids were exhausted. Good thing, too, because both kids woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to sleep with us; I sent them to cuddle with Daddy!

Saturday was race day and my plan was simple: Take the northbound 28 mile out-and-back as easy as possible and the 22 mile southbound out-and-back as hard as possible and hope they were about the same pace. So I started slow and didn't worry about who was in front of me, though I won't say I didn't notice that there were three ladies on the trail ahead of me. ;) Things were very dusty but otherwise pretty easy into the first AS at 6.1 miles, where the lead girls were two minutes out in front.

The next section I ran mostly with Mike from Portland. We talked quite a bit and I always enjoy that, especially early in the race. Mike is an Ironman triathlete, hoping to run a 2:50 marathon this fall and his goal for the day was 9-9:30. Hmmm...I am only a 3:10 marathoner and I was hoping to run sub 8:00 for the day. The math seemed so far off, I didn't even admit my goal for the day to Mike! He told me I should go get the ladies ahead of me because they were only a couple of minutes up. I made a big joke comparing the Oregon Trail Series to the Tour de France, saying that my main goal for the year was to win the OTS, and to do that I just need to have four solid races, I don't need to win any of the "stages" outright. So I stayed behind him easy up the hills, but when he stumbled, I took the lead and picked it up just a bit on the flat. We came upon the third place girl at the base of the steepest hill on the north section. She asked if I wanted to pass, but I said no. She slowed down a lot on the uphill to the point that I could keep up with her by walking. Either it got too steep or she noticed me walking, so she started to walk, too. Well at that point, I felt I needed to pass, but I think she was a little put off that I told her I wasn't going to pass and then sixty seconds later, I was asking to go by!

I was running pretty well at this point, but starting pretty early in the day my stomach just felt slosh-y and overly full. I was eating fine and I didn't fell nauseated, but it still just didn't feel right.

At the turn around (mile 14.2) the two lead ladies were right together and still just two minutes ahead. After the next AS (19.2 miles), I caught up with Denise and one other guy she was running with and I hung with them for the next 2+ miles or so till we got to the next AS (mile 22.4) . I filled my bottle, grabbed some cookies and then turned to Denise and said, "Are you ready? Let's go!" I took off running, but I guess she wasn't ready because almost immediately, I noticed that she wasn't behind me. That was the last time I ran with anybody all day.

During the next section, my stomach was so full, I just did not want to drink anymore. I still didn't really feel bad and I could run OK, but I just felt my stomach was stretched to its max. I ended up taking 4 S-caps! in this section over a span of 45 minutes. Egads! But with the heat I knew I was done if I couldn't keep hydrated. It was a gamble to take a salt O.D. but it seemed to work out and my stomach gradually got better.

With a mile or so of trail left till we got back to the start, I spied the first place girl. When I caught up to her, I hung back about 50 yards and just stuck to her pace, till we hit the road and then I finally passed her for the lead coming into AS6 right at the start/finish (28.4 miles = 4:11).

This AS threw me for a bit of a loop, because it was right on the road and I was expecting it to be up the driveway another 200 yards or so where the start finish was and where I had left my BAG! This was a bit of a problem because there were no gels on the course and I only had one left on me, but at that point I wasn't going out of my way to get the ones from my bag either!

I was in and out of there fast and then down the trail. When the trail crossed the campground road, so did I. I mean, this is a trail race, right? I head down the trail but after a couple of minutes I realize the trail is heading into the campground and away from where I think the PCT should be, so I asked some campers if they had seen any runners and they looked at me as if I had asked them if they had seen any dancing green leprechauns, so I quickly make a 180 and head back the other way. I later learned all of the top 8 or so runners made this little detour. By the time I got back to the road (where I was supposed to turn), it looks like people have started to figure out there is a problem and they are adding more course markings. So I head up the road and have to pass the same girl again, and I had already exhausted all my pleasantries! I asked her how she was doing, she said she was good except "her ass was a little sore." I told her I felt good except that my stomach was "a little wonky". WONKY?!? Who talks like that? Obviously, my brain was a little wonky!

The next 10.5 miles were pretty much equal thirds (or so it felt) of up, down, and up (with down, up, down on the way back). I was running kind of scared because I had just given up a four minute lead, so I pretty much kept running the whole first up until getting to Red Wolf AS (mile 32.5). Caroline Klug was manning the station, and I think she's got to be my favorite cheerleader. She gets all excited and tells me, "John Ticer just came through here a couple minutes ago! He's the course record holder! You could chick Ticer!!" I tell her I don't care about chicking Ticer, I am just trying to make sure nobody chicks me!

The next section is awesome, with lots of "groping" ferns and then the last part is a decent climb to the turn around. I get there and the ladies tell me I am in 4th. I am practically arguing with them telling them they are wrong, even though I have only seen 3 guys go back the other way. But there are two other guys I KNOW were ahead of me and I haven't seen them. I later learned they took a detour also, only it took them a bit longer to get turned around, so I got ahead of them without ever actually passing them. On the way back I see the second place woman and she is 13 minutes back and all the sudden it hits me: OH MY GOD! I am going to win this thing!

The way back was fun because I got to see all the people coming the other way. After a couple of miles somebody yells to me, "Go Chick Ticer. He's just up ahead." Apparently, people would really like to see Ticer get chicked! I caught a glimpse of him on the steep uphill section - the only real walking I did all day (Ticer was walking, too!), but once it leveled off, Ticer was out of there and I never saw him again, till the food line after the race, where he was once again just a little bit ahead of me!

Also, on the way back I saw Mike, who yells at me, "Hey Lance, it looks like you are going to get the stage win after all!" That was very sweet and it made me smile. When I crossed the line I got to celebrate with a big hug from Olga and then a few more hugs from the family. What a day!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

These Are Your Legs...And These Are Your Legs On Drugs

I had a horrible June, particularly when it comes to running. After Western States Camp, I just didn't seem to be able to run. I wasn't really sore, it was just that my legs seemed to not want to go. There was no power there at all. Even climbing stairs made my legs quiver. And once, I tried to go up stairs carrying my 25 pound son and I nearly fell over at the top. When I did try to run, an easy pace felt monumental; a hard pace made me light headed a gave me a general sense of unease. I would get dizzy and my heart would be racing. Hills were out of the question. I was also pretty crabby and depressed, which was probably harder on my hubby than on me!

The first week and then even the second, I just accepted this as fatigue. At the end of two weeks I still couldn't run any better - not even the tiniest improvement. So I took three days off. That turned into a week when I still couldn't seem to climb a flight of stairs normally. Finally, I went to the doctor.

My doctor is a marathoner, who even did Boston a few years back, and I was happy to be seeing someone who could relate to a runner. But she was definitely of the marathon mentality and not in sync with the ultra-runner mindset. When I told her I did a 55k on April 5th, another April 25th, then a tough 50k on May 9th, followed by a one hour track race and then 74 miles in 3 days, she was floored. She couldn't believe someone would run that much. But it didn't seem like that much to me. In fact, I still have that lingering wimp feeling for not doing the 50 miler. She was certain I was just tired and that I had a lot of microfiber damage in my legs. She did a bunch of lab work and an EKG, which all showed me to be in good shape, so she was sure she was right. She had me convinced, too. And so I followed her advice: no more than 3 miles per day for a week and then go see a physical therapist.

The physical therapist had me do all kinds of things: walking across the room, leg strength testing, core strength testing, and flexibility testing. Her diagnosis: Extremely tight and shortened iliopsoas muscles coupled with under developed inner quads. She gave me a couple of stretches for my iliopsoas and some exercises for my inner quads. But the best part was she told me I could run whatever I wanted, including speed work and distance.

I went straight to the gym, did my stretches and got on the treadmill. I felt great! I ran 6 miles including a 7:30 mile, a 7:00 mile, and a 3:15 half just to test myself. Easy-peasy-Japaneesy, this was a snap. I thought the PT was a genius if she could fix me with 5 minutes of stretching.

I had two more good days and then, Wham! back to dead legs. I didn't get it. I was doing my stretching religiously and the quad work, too. Had I just tired myself from running fairly hard the last two days? It just didn't seem right.

To make matters worse, my head felt off most of the month. I have severe seasonal allegies to grass and June is grass season in Oregon! I was pretty sure it was Claritin that made me feel off and so I stopped taking it at the end of June, but somebody at work commented that I seemed rather sniffle-ly, so I started it up again.

When I had been complaining about my problem to a friend, he asked if I was on any beta-blockers or cholesterol drugs. "Those can really affect exercise," he told me. I knew that, but I wasn't on those drugs. But then it clicked: I started taking Claritin right around the time of Western States Camp. The days I felt good, I hadn't been taking it for a while. The days I felt like crap, I had taken Claritin.

So I did some research. Muscle weakness (and dizzyness!) is one of the top three side effects. Additionally, Claritin is supposed to be an anti-histamine, but it can have anti-cholinergic effects as well. That means it can block the neurotransmitters that cause your muscles to fire.

I have been off Claritin for about ten days and I have been feeling great. It wasn't a gradual recovery; it was as if someone flipped a switch. I truly believe my woes were Claritin related, but I almost need to believe it, too, because it gives me a concrete reason for my bad month. Plus, I really hated feeling like I had done this to myself or that my body couldn't handle what I put it through or that my training wasn't good enough. Blaming Claritin restores my confidence and I like that.

Unfortunately, this whole thing kind of ruined my plan of training hard in June. My build up to PCT50 boils down to four weeks. Well, it is what it is. Also, I have a referral to an allergist, and I am hoping to get the desensitizing shots to make my allegies (and the meds!) a thing of the past!