Sunday, January 31, 2010

Finding The Time

Lately several people have asked me where I find the time to train for ultras. The question leads me to two different answers. One is the Dragnet answer - just the facts of my actual schedule. But sometimes (in my own head), I've had more philosophical and abstract musings about finding the time to do the things one values the most. The first is a lot easier to put down on paper, so that is where I will start. I'll try to formalize the second in a follow-up when I am feeling more creative.

So, here is a general break down of my training schedule:

Monday - Monday is my "wild card." I only work till about 11:30 on Mondays which leaves me plenty of time to get in a good workout. It varies between long miles, some sort of speed, or a medium run with lifting (by far the most common this winter). Monday will be all about the miles and extra trail time as it gets closer to WS.

Tuesday - up at 4:30 to meet my two fabulous training partners, Dan and Steph at 5:00. Steph is a stellar marathoner who is as obsessive about miles as any ultra-runner. We aim for 12 miles. The shame would be unbearable if we did less than ten, so we don't. ;)

Wednesday - The running store in Salem hosts a Wednesday night workout that attracts some of the more hardcore runners in Salem. It is usually about 30 minutes of moderate-hard running. I run from work, plus warm up and cool down and can pretty easily stretch this to 10 miles.

Thurs- up at 4:30 for another 10-12 with Dan and Steph before work.

Friday - Last year I mostly took Fridays off. This is an easy spot to add potential miles for WS. This spring, I'll be looking to get an easy 5-6 miles on Friday, most likely before work.

Saturday - Long. Mac and I split the weekend. I get to do my thing Saturday and he gets to play Sunday. Sometimes we even try to see each other!

Sunday - easy or off. Usually on the treadmill or sometimes in the late afternoon after Mac gets home.

The plan for adding mileage this spring: More on Mondays, even longer Long Runs on Saturdays, and an additional light run on Fridays and/or Sundays. I'd like to keep one day a week as OFF (or at least cross-training only) for as long as possible. I don't really like doubles, but concede there may have to be some in the heavy period (the four Hell Weeks in May-June aren't fully planned yet. Just "100 miles" written on the calendar for each week as a general guide. I figured I needed to see how I was holding up before I could establish the final plan).

So, in a nut-shell that is where I am putting in my training time. I have been doing it for almost a year and a half, so I guess I have found a way to make 50-70 mpw fairly sustainable. I am hoping 80 mpw won't rock the boat too much, which is about the baseline mileage I plan to use for WS. Most of the extra miles will probably be added to Saturday. I have a total of five 100 mile weeks planned, with four of them in May and early June ("the Hell Weeks"). I don't expect that kind of training to be sustainable in any way, but I should be able to do it for the limited time frame...I hope. ;)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Naked Mole Rats and Western States

In college, I wrote a biology term paper on naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber). The naked mole rat is one of two known mammals to exhibit eusocial mating (along with their more modest cousin, the Damaraland Mole Rat). Like bees and ants, the mole rats have a single breeding female ("the queen") who mates with 2-3 select males. The remaining 75 or so members of the colony don't breed.

My paper discussed how this situation actually allowed non-breeding colony members to pass MORE of their genes on to the next generation (colonies are fairly inbred so each member is more closely related to their siblings than to their own offspring) and the paper explored social risk/benefit to this model. The paper was well written, with nearly two dozen references. You could have read just my paper and been an expert on Naked Mole Rats. It was the longest paper I had written up until that point and I was quite proud of it. It got a B+. The professor's comment: "Very informative, but lacks an original hypothesis."

This past week I have been working hard on getting my training schedule for Western States together. Last week, I stopped by the WS webpage and saw a bright red counter in the sidebar: Days to Go = 163. Wow, here I was thinking it was a whole five months away, but then I come to see there are only 163 days to go! ;) Definitely time to get serious. It didn't help that Western States superstars Annette Bednosky and Meghan Arbogast both told me training should start in December. Yikes, I am already behind! (well, maybe Bandera training counts for something, right?).

Anyway, in my 20 years of running, I don't think I have ever had a plan to follow. Certainly, in high school and college, my coaches had a plan that they had me following and I could see the patterns in the schedule, but I didn't really think more than one day at a time. Some days, I wouldn't even know what the track workout would be until after the warm up was complete.

After college, though, I have always just run what I have wanted to run or what I thought would be good for that day. I had a general grasp of what a training plan should include and what I wanted to accomplish, so some days I'd decide to do speed work or hills. I knew I wanted to go long on the weekends, but even up until last year, the mileage was mostly determined by what other people were doing. And some times the situation would dictate the mileage, like when I went to run at Silver Falls I did 15 miles, because that is the distance on the perimeter loop. When we vacationed at Diamond Lake my long run was only 12 miles - one lap around the lake.

I made it through one hundred miler with this type of training, but that seemed WAY too amateur for Western States. So I have been researching and reading and finally have a REAL plan. The plan mixes ideas from many people. The skeleton came from Tim Twietmeyer's training plan for his 1996 WS victory (published in Runner's World, with a photocopy in my nightstand table) and added in a good dose of Scott Jurek's coaching plan (shhh...don't tell him; I didn't pay!). I liked Duncan Callahan's 2-2-2, 3-3-3, 4-4-4 workouts so I put them in. And when Craig Thornley and his merry band of Western States worshippers told me to run downhills, I listened and put it on the schedule. Then to top it all off, I stole Jerry Seinfeld's wall calendar idea.

So in lieu of artwork, my bedroom wall will be adorned by a big calendar for the next 22 weeks so I can watch my string of X's grow!

I feel much less intimidated by Western States now that I have a concrete idea of how I am going to get prepared. I think the plan is a good one, but like the naked mole rat report, it definitely lacks original content! The final grade won't be in until June 26th.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stop Being A Whiner!

I am not one to run a big race and then come back the next day and say, "Wow! I feel great!" Quite the contrary, I usually have something that is giving me quite a bit of pain. In fact, looking through the archives:
- I was "more sore than I had ever been" after my PR at CIM in 2008
- Didn't feel too bad in my legs after PCT50, but my shoulder was really bothering me.
- I was "crazy sore" after Waldo.
- At Hundred in the Hood, I said I "waddled like a crippled penguin," my knees and shins hurt, and my right ankle was a "riotous mass of inflamed tendons."

And after Bandera, the first thing I could talk about was my left ankle hurting like heck from all the rocks. In fact, now that I see it laid out like this, I realize I really am quite a whiner! Ok, maybe I do need to suck it up, but the point is, following a big race, I am not usually skipping around, merrily singing the Smurf theme song.

So this is totally out of character, but I really felt great after Bandera. Yes, my ankle hurt, but the soreness in my quads was minimal. Stairs didn't scare me one bit! Wednesday, I was even out doing tempo with the Gallagher's group. That's not to say I wasn't tired; all I could muster was 7:25's for the three miles at "half-marathon pace," but I was running without pain. And then Saturday, I drove down to Eugene for the MLK Fat-ass. I only did half of the 50k (my pre-planned stopping point as part of my easy week and because I had to get back to Salem for a bridal shower), but I felt like I could have easily kept going.

This all seems like a good thing, like maybe doing my two highest mileage weeks ever (with two hard downhill sessions) got me in good shape. But then there are those little "What If?" monkeys that keep popping up to torture me: What if I feel great because I didn't run hard enough?

Is feeling great after a race a good thing or a bad thing? Does it mean I was ready or does it mean I didn't give it my all? I know I felt like I was pushing it at the time, and I thought that I was giving it everything I had, but how do I really know that somewhere deep in my muscles there wasn't something more to give?? (maybe like three minutes and ten seconds more, for example, haha!)

How about you? How do you feel after an ultra?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bandera 100k

"Ma'am, I am going to need to inspect your bag," the TSA officer at PDX informed me.

So started my trip to the Bandera 100K. "Yeah, no problem," I answered back to the portly uniformed man, as if he were giving me a choice. I was certain I was getting busted for a canister of powdered Gatorade given the recent scare with "granular substances." The officer quickly removed nearly everything from my bag, it's contents readily revealing the nature of my trip: running shoes, sports bras, gels, water bottles, even the Gatorade got passed over with barely a glance. But remember my headlight that I had so cleverly rigged for Hundred in the Hood with my McGyver skills? Yeah, well TSA didn't think it was so clever.
My weapon of mass destruction

After the headlight passed individual inspection and a chemical exam, the guy hands it back with an explanation: "This morning we had a training drill and there was a fake bomb with some copper spools and batteries wrapped in duct tape, so when we saw this we were crapping our pants!"

Umm... is "crapping our pants" an official TSA term and am I supposed to feel more secure knowing that the TSA personnel are going to soil themselves when a real emergency occurs?? Anyway, after being removed from the terrorist list, I made it to Texas without further incidence.

My original reason for going to Bandera was to try to win a spot for Western States. But back when I was looking at the entrants in November, the list looked pretty beatable. I guess I wasn't the only one to notice this because right after the WS lottery several fast names appeared on the list: Annette Bednosky, Aliza Lapierre, and Jill Perry, as well as two former Bandera champions (Marcy Beard and Melanie Fryar). No longer needing a WS spot, my goal morphed into Waldo redemption and starting the year out with a good race (specifically, I wanted to go under the old course record of 11:18, but I wouldn't have admitted that ahead of time).

Race morning came was freezing (no, worse it was 14 degrees!), but it was sunny and clear. My gloved fingers were in pain from the cold and a thin layer of ice would form on the nipples of my water bottles between uses!

Bandera is two repeated loops of a 50k course. Looking at the available splits from previous years (2008 and 2009), I was immediately impressed by how much everybody slowed down on the second lap. Only 4 people (all men, total = 204 finishers) completed the second lap within 40 minutes of their first lap time (average was greater that an hour slower!). I certainly understand the concept of fatigue, but I thought the best strategy would be to aim for splits as even as possible. The first lap my mantra was "Leave room for improvement." Consequently, I walked a lot of the smaller hills (and all the big hills) and I stayed behind people rather than passing. In fact, for the first 12 miles I ran with a guy targeting a 15 hour finish.

The first section has a couple of good rocky climbs and the second section had several boulder strewn rollers, but the third section was actually the killer in the first loop, precisely because it was far and away the easiest section of the course - flat trails through grassy fields with pretty smooth trail. This section lured one into running faster because it was so easy and I succumbed: 5.8 miles in 50 min. That didn't really "leave room for improvement!" But I settled back in through the next hillier sections until the end of the first loop. Annette was at the aid station which surprised me a bit because I thought she was farther ahead of me. I left to start my second loop at 5:11 just ahead of her. I was feeling pretty good, but already my appetite was going south. I wasn't sick at all, there just wasn't much that sounded good. I was running scared back to AS1(now 7), knowing that Annette was right behind me and knowing that I wanted to go close to my first split. At the AS I grabbed some pretzels, but spit them out after chewing them to a pulp because I couldn't swallow them without gagging. I was two minutes off my first split.

The next section I think was the hardest for me. My energy was starting to falter and it was mentally rough because I knew I still had 20 miles after getting to the next Aid Station. By the time I got to Chapas (AS#2 and 8), I knew I had to get some food in me, so I reluctantly accepted a cup of soup and stayed until I got it all down. Four minutes slower on this split, but a lot of that was at the aid station.

Then it was back to the easy section. Wouldn't you know it, that's where I take my only fall of the day! I banged up my knee and dislodged a water bottle, but there was no real damage. That section I felt like I was dragging, but I was only 2 minutes slower. When I got to Cross Roads (~mile 48), I was happy to see Sean Meissner there, done with his 50K and out to cheer.

"Hey, Sean, you wanna run some more? I could use the company!" I begged. He seemed interested but he didn't have any running gear. So we agreed he'd go change while I did the 4.25 mile loop back to Cross Roads.

As I left Sean yelled, "Keep it up. She is only a couple of minutes ahead of you!"

I looked back at him and wondered what he was talking about. "Who??" I queried.

"Jill," he answers back. Hmmm, well now that was encouraging. But the knowledge didn't seem to help my running, as this split was my biggest discrepancy from the first (6 min). When I got back to Cross Roads, Sean wasn't there yet and I didn't want to lose time waiting so I took off. I was even more discouraged because a sign leaving the aid station said "10.7 miles to go," but I was sure I remembered the last two legs to be 4.7 and 5.0 miles, so where did that extra mile come from?? (answer: bad math! Really it was just too cold to think!). I even asked the cook if this was right, but he just laughed and said, "10.7 miles is just a short run for you guys!"

Extra mile or not, I was smelling the barn at that point plus I was catching some of the 50k stragglers which was motivating and got back to just a couple minutes off my first loop split.

When I got to Last Chance, Sean was waiting for me and I was so glad to have some company. Plus, he got me to try some watered down Coke when I told him I wasn't eating much. In real life I hate Coke (and all dark sodas, except root beer) - too syrupy with a completely artificial flavor. But after 57 miles this stuff was like the elixir of life. I started sucking it down and it perked me up, plus Sean made sure I kept moving.

The next half hour passed quickly as I chatted with Sean and twilight came. We knew we were going to easily come in under 11 hours, so we set a new goal: to finish without turning on my headlamp. Two miles later, we hit the dirt road for the last quarter mile and I gave a final push to the finish, crossing the line in 10:36:17 - with my light OFF and a 1 minute negative split! I only had a fourteen minute difference between loops! - more consistent than any of the 2008 or 2009 splits. (Thanks, Sean, for pointing this out. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on the aid station guys that couldn't add, given my bad math). Annette was just minutes behind, also without the use of her lamp.

Jill and Aliza were at the finish and there were hugs all around for our speedy quartet that had completely obliterated the old course record (11:18). I was stumbling tired, my face was a salt-lick and I was covered in dirt all along my right side from my fall, but Aliza and Jill were as cute and peppy as school girls! They were telling how Jill caught Aliza with a half mile to go and they decided to duke it out to the finish but ended up dead even, sharing the victory. The pair finished just over 3 minutes ahead of me, for an unbelievably tight spread for the top 4 ladies! The top two men, Nick Clark and Chikara Omine, also went under the old course record, so it was a fast day all around!(results)

Afterward, a group of us took the town of Bandera by storm, celebrating the day with margaritas and other libations. And don't forget food! We had a great time joking about the day, talking about future race plans and bonding over things only ultra-runners could understand (like why it is actually a good thing when your toenails fall off!). Before running Waldo, I said I felt like the biggest kid at the children's table, just waiting to move up. Hanging out with amazing runners (and all around great people) after a fantastic day of running definitely felt like I had been invited to the adult table!

As a substitute for the traditional bronze medal, at the breakfast I was awarded a most unique rock and metal elephant, which I assure you was not light! Worried about further arousing TSA suspicion, I made sure to send that bad boy through the x-ray in a bin by itself. There were still plenty of questions, but none related to me being a threat to national security!Bandera was a great experience, and with a time three hours and five minutes better than my Where's Waldo time, I feel like I got my redemption! And last (but not least!), an extra special thanks has to go out to all the volunteers who were out there freezing their butts off in miserable cold, just to make sure we kept ours moving - thank you! You won't be hearing any complaints from me about this event, which is good, because I think they would have fallen on deaf ears:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Panic Time

Last night I had my first of many mini-panic attacks, "OMG WTF was I thinking?!? 62 miles is a really f'ing long way to run! Why the eff would I fly to Texas to run 100k? I am not in shape for this!!" (I drop too many F-bombs when I get stressed).

My husband is always very nurturing and supportive in times like these. His response: "Do you know that you are a total frickin' nut job?! You do this EVERY single time!"

He's right, I do. I have ten ultras under my belt now...that almost seems like I am approaching "veteran" status in this sport. So why do these races make me panic like a rookie? I don't even have anything on the line - I already have my spot for Western States!

I think a lot of it has to do with tapering. I like to train and I love to race, but these few days in between seem like there is no purpose or plan. I think I take all of the extra energy and turn it in to stress and panic.

To bolster my confidence, I reread this article that I just came across last week, even though it is almost a month old. I like the description of how I "ran away" with the race, but it didn't really calm me down. Maybe it is time to break out the Valium!

Ok, time to finish packing. With weather predictions for 15 degrees at the start, I keep throwing a few more articles of clothing into my bag every time I walk by! to Texas!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Getting My Fix

At work we are transitioning from transcriptionists to the voice recognition software Dragonspeak. The transcriptionists are all being "redeployed" to new jobs within the hospital. Or maybe Obama is sending them to Afghanistan.

Anyway, Salem Hospital recently blocked Facebook and Blogger and just about every other interesting website, which has really made my job a lot less fun. So this afternoon I decided to have a little fun with Dragonspeak, using it to type my e-mails and personal letters and such. (Mind you I had signed out all my cases and read two journals, so, No, I wasn't neglecting my doctorly duties...well, at least not too much).

Our Dragonspeak came completely loaded with a medical lexicon so it can "understand" words like "leukoerythroblastosis" and "malakoplakia" and other ridiculously long words that medical personnel use to make themselves feel smart. On the downside, it seems like the computer tries to turn everything into a medical situation. This provided for some amusement, when I spoke about my first 26.2, Washington's Birthday Marathon, but instead got "Washington's birthday marajuana"!

On further reflection, maybe the computer was right after all. Running has certainly become my addiction of choice. It mellows me out, and man, does it give me the munchies! And Washington's Birthday Marathon was the "gateway drug" that lead me to the the ultramarathon path.

Like any junkie, I am willing to go to ridiculous lengths to get my fix. So Friday, I am off to Bandera, Texas to run my second 100K in pursuit of a nice, long runner's high. I am desperately hoping to avoid the "bad trip" of my last 100k (ironically, by actually taking drugs (steroid inhalers) to prevent this).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Life's Mountains

My husband Mac has transformed himself from a soft teddy bear to a svelte guy who's 40 pounds lighter. In the process he became a runner. He's been chronicling his efforts at Get Fit Slowly, both to motivate himself and others. Not only is it great to share our running interests, but every now and then we even get to run together! This was originally a guest post on his site after we ran 7.5 miles together on Dec. 27th.

Today I had the pleasure of running with my husband. It is not something we do often as we have different training goals, different schedules, and different running paces. Not to mention we've got two kids that need to be taken care of and who wants to pay a babysitter just so we can run??

But this week we were down in Southern California visiting Mac's family, aka Free Babysitting Services. So we decided to go for a run. Or rather, I decided, and then I pestered Mac and called him a loser (all in good fun) until he agreed to go.

We headed up to Chantry Flats, a nearby recreation area with miles of trails in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains (aka mile 74.5 of AC100). We started up a gradual climb on the Upper Winter Creek Trail, with Mac playfully whining about not liking to run uphill. After three miles, we had a little downhill stretch and then we started up an out and back section to the top of Mt. Zion. That's when the real uphill started! It is only a mile and a quarter from the trail junction to the summit, but it gains nearly a thousand feet to summit at 3,575 feet. Check out this elevation profile I found:

About half way up that section, Mac says,"How come you always want to climb a mountain just for the sake of climbing a mountain?!?"

But I didn't even have to think to come up with a whole list of retorts: "We aren't climbing a mountain just for the sake of climbing a mountain!! We are climbing to be fit, to be out in nature, to do things you never did with your family while you were growing up, to take a break from the chaos of modern life, to spend quality time together, and to see new things."

At the summit we took a look around the valley below us and then headed back down the way we came. Shortly after starting down, Mac rolled his ankle. He wasn't badly hurt but acknowledged that he would have gone down hard and been pretty bad off if he had been carrying his previous extra pounds.

"Well, you've come a long way way since then." I tell him.

"Yeah, I know that." He answers back.

Now doesn't that seem like there was more than just climbing for the sake of climbing a mountain??