Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice Run

At 4:20 am, I felt my husband touch my arm. I don't know if he was asleep or awake, but the touch was enough to wake me up. Gotta get moving! The sun will be rising soon. Friday night I had packed my mule pack with all the essential gear I thought I would need: Food, first aid kit, parachute cord, emergency rain ponchos, emergency blanket, large trash bag (for emergency shelter), water purifier, extra socks, headlamp, knife, toilet paper!, etc. Once I fill the hydration bladder with water, the pack weighs about 10 pounds. Now I just had to get dressed and prepare my body for the longest day run - body glide in all potentially chafing areas, aquaphor on the feet, shorts, tank, combat vest (after all I am the Warrior Princess!) hat or headband, knee pads, weightlifting gloves(hand protection), Injinji toe socks, shoes. I'm ready and it's 5:00am and I'm already late since it's going to take about 2 hrs to get to my starting point - Swift Gap near Elkton, VA. Finally, at 7:30am, I'm at the trail head and ready to start moving south. I meet my first through hiker of the day (those going from South to North on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail) and he points me in the right direction. The trail begins ascending immediately, but it isn't very technical(rocky) and I'm able to start running right away. It's more of a run/power hike, run until it's too steep then power hike, trying to keep the heart rate up and the pace steady. It's cloudy, hot and muggy - feels like a storm is brewing. The most eventful thing that occurred in the first hour was the black bear that crossed my path! In the second hour, as I was descending and picking up the pace pretty good, one side of the chest strap on my back pack breaks. I tried running for a few minutes and realized that it had to be fixed somehow. So using parachute cord, and my knife, I managed to jury rig it. My husband would be proud. Back on the trail, I pick up the pace to make up for lost time. Now I'm descending down some slippery rocks and sure enough my feet go out from under me and I land on my rear end, my right arm going backward and cracking my elbow on a rock. So much for the knee pads. Well, it was just an elbow, so even if it's broken, I can still run, right? I get up and start running again, and the pain starts to lesson. However, I look over at it and there's blood running down my arm. Another unscheduled stop. Pull out the first aid kit, clean the wound, and put a bandaid on the cut. Time to start moving again. It's starting to sprinkle which feels good, because with every ridge I climb I get soaked with sweat. My mantra is - if you're hiking up hill, make sure you drink. The tops of the ridges were wonderfully breezy, but when you descended into the hollows the air became close. At about 9:30, the rain started to come down. It quickly turned into a full blown storm, with the rain coming in great sheets. I stopped, put my emergency rain poncho on, and kept moving. There was really no place to take shelter and so the only thing to do was to push on. It poured and poured. I thought to myself, "At least it's not thundering and lightening." As if on cue - boom! the first clap of thunder. I just had to laugh and keep going. The storm lasted up one ridge and down the other side, then began to slack off. I pulled the emergency poncho off, stuffed it away and kept going, sloshing through puddles of water. Soon the sun came out, and things began to dry off. There were some beautiful views on the tops of the ridges and one mile began to turn into another. At times the trail was overgrown, the underbrush encroaching on the path. At other times, the forest was mature and the path strewn with soft pine needles. I encountered two snakes along the way, a black snake that took his time crossing the trail, and a big copperhead that was curled up under a log next to the trail. At mile 17 I was near the Loft Campground. I took a quick sidetrip to the campstore and bought a Pepsi (sugar & caffeine, yes!). I tried to convince the store clerk that I was going to Waynesboro. "You'll never make it." he said - 26 more miles. At that point I probably had 8hrs of daylight left. "Sure I will," I insisted. Then he said, "Even in the army they give you 10 minutes break." So I remarked, "Well, this is my break. I'm going to drink this Pepsi and then get moving." I pushed on. At mile 24, I came out on the ledge where this picture was taken. This is the Warrior Princess in all her glory. This is also where I ran out of water. It was midafternoon and hot. I was a little concerned, but I knew that somewhere along the way there would be a shelter with a spring. It happened to be a mile away. These shelters are usually about a 1/4 mile down the side of the mountain, and the springs can be hit or miss. Luckily, this one was trickling out at a nice pace, and the water was cold and refreshing. Since I was getting the water straight from the source, I didn't treat it, just drank it up. That task done, I chatted with the through hikers who were done for the day, and then moved on. From mile 25 to 30, it seemed the uphills were getting longer and longer and the downhills shorter and shorter. At mile 31, I had to make a decision. My cellphone was running low on batteries and reception was in and out. To rendezvous with my husband who was picking me up, he had to know where I was. The mile marker sign showed a gap about 6 miles away. If I stopped there it would be a 12 hour day. With the drive home being close to 3 hrs, I thought that would probably be a good stopping place. I managed to get a signal, called him (got his voice mail) and told him the location of the pickup point and what time I would be there. I hoped he got the message because my cell phone battery was almost gone. Now that I knew how much farther I had, I tried to pick up the pace a bit. Finally, there were some longer stretches of downhill. I passed some people setting up camp along a ridge. I paused briefly at an overlook, took a few pictures and then finished my last descent and climb up to Jarmin Gap. The total mileage ended up being 36.5 miles in about 12 hours. We traveled on the parkway on our way back to get my car. An ambulance was parked at the overlook where I had just been, and it looked like they were going on the trail to rescue someone who had been injured. Then a little further down the road, a momma bear and her 3 cubs crossed the road in front of our car. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my camera out in time to take a picture. We stopped one last time to take a picture of the sunset over the mountains. The Summer Solstice Run was at its end.

For more photos go to:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Run Under the Stars 10 Hour Endurance Run

As I stood at the starting line for the race, I realized that it was my two year anniversary from the day I walked into the Weight Watchers meeting weighing 274 pounds. Now I was standing on a horse track, getting ready to run for 10 hours straight. The journey to this point has had many peaks and valleys, and like the many mountain trails I run on, there have been lots of obstacles to trip me up along the way. Most of these are mental - self doubt, stress, and negative thought patterns that create self limits. Some were physical - a sickness followed by a lingering cough that would not go away. But I was here now, to challenge myself to the limit and to have fun doing it. Did I have a race strategy? Sort of. Start on the fast side and rack up as many miles as possible in the first half of the race, crash and burn, and then hang on to the final whistle. I'm standing on the toe line, trying to make small talk. One of the relay team members is standing there, looking like an Olympiad compared to me. "What's your pace? 8, 7, 6 minutes?" Finally I got it out of him - 6:40s. Whew, I'd see him every time he lapped me! (It was a 1/2 mile loop). His team of five went on to log about 85 miles! That's an average of about a 7 min/mile pace. As we take off, I find myself running next to a pleasant fellow who was taking a pretty good pace. I felt good, and the pace didn't seem that hard, so I ran with him for a while. We were talking and clipping along at a little less than 9min miles. After a while, he stopped to take a walking break and feeling good, I decided to keep going (you know my strategy...) Perhaps, I should have ran with him the whole time (he ended up winning the race with 58 miles logged). I hit the 10k mark at about 54min, and decided to drop the pace a little bit. My mistake in these first few miles was hydration - I didn't drink enough. I was sweating a lot too. But I was still feeling good. Now I was running on my own. I would wave at Carol, a lady I met before the race, as I passed her and kept going. The guy I started the race would catch up to me, he said right before his walking break. So for a while we were pretty even. I passed the half-marathon mark (13.1 miles) at about 2 hours, just as it was time to change directions! Okay, time to slow down a little more. For some reason, the direction change threw my stride off a bit. Then at about mile 16, the first leg cramp hit. I walked briefly and was able to loosen it up, then realized how far behind I was on drinking my water/electrolytes. Drink, drink, drink and keep running. Stopping more to walk and drink. I hit the 20 mile mark at 3 hrs 20minutes and the marathon mark at 4hrs 45min. My marathon goal time is a sub 4 hour, so this gave me an idea of what I needed to work on for that(hydrating early for one). The leg cramps were coming more regularly and I had to take a lot of walking breaks now. I tried not to make them more than a quarter or half of the loop. My next goal was the 30 mile mark which I hit at 5 hrs 35 min. At this point there was still a chance to make 50 miles. From 30 to 40 miles my pace slowed even more, the leg cramps at times debilitating. I would stop and stretch them. An older gentlemen gave me some S!Caps that helped and cranberry supplements. He said I started too fast(didn't bother to tell him that was the strategy..he was a veteran at ultras, I walked with him for a while too). I fueled mostly with gels and Vespa(it works great). Energy wise I felt great, I could have run if my leg would only stop cramping. During this 10 miles, I walked with Carol and her friend Angela for a while. Once I sat down for a brief second at our camper (which was conveniently located right by the track) and let my husband, who happened to be awake at that moment, refill my bottles. Carol came by at that time and yelled "Get your butt up, and get back out here!" I yelled back, "I'm coming, I'm coming." I did a few loops with a gentleman from VA. He was doing a 2/1 run walk interval. He asked me what my intervals were. I said "I run until my leg cramps up, and then I walk until it loosens up." I didn't like the 2/1, just when you got going you stopped, just when you got in a groove walking, you had to start running again! I finally let him go on. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I discovered Coke! Fill my water bottle with coke please! It really perked me up. The 30s slowly ticked off. When I walked, this one girl kept lapping me, one or two times. Then she would walk with her sister and I would lap her. But I knew that somewhere in there, she had passed my mileage count. I did stop and walk with her and her sister for a while. Her sister had been injured and had opted for walking the race. At 8 hours, I finally hit the 40 mile mark. I knew at that point that it would be virtually impossible to get to 50 miles. Now, it was 1 mile at a time. This is when I entered the "zone." I put my head down and started to run. The leg cramps were coming less often and not as severe, so I was back to walking less and running more. I focused on the spot 3 feet in front of me, and just kept moving forward. Aside from the calf cramps, the legs felt better when running than when walking. 41, 42, can I make 43? 44, 45, is it over yet - keep moving, keep going forward. I passed the man that gave me the S!caps "Go get them, Tiger!" Too tired to comment back, 46, 47, could I make 48 - yes at a 11:45 pace! 12 minutes to go, there's got to be at least one lap left in me. I passed the girl that had lapped me "Did you get 50?" I asked. She had. "Looks like 48.5 for me." and I pushed toward the finish line. I crossed it with a 5 min and 30 seconds to go. I ran past the camper and my husband was standing out front, "5 minutes, can I do one more?" And then I took off, pushing with all my might. A guy ran by me. "Last lap," he said. Last curve, the finish line is in sight. Am I going to do it? Yes! One minute to spare! I ran the last mile in 11:15! 49 miles total! I raised my hands in victory. The guy who crossed right before me gave me a high five. Then I promptly cramped up (it was the big one, Ethel) and gave a yell! Three people ran over to me and held me up. My husband ran over and began to massage my calf. Finally it loosened up enough so I could walk around and work it the rest of the way out. I was puttering around, and realized that they were doing the awards ceremony. I knew the one girl had beaten me. Had anybody else? They announced the 3rd place female with a mileage count of 46. Is it really true? I'm second place? As I accepted the trophy, I realized that this was not just about me. It was about my wonderful supportive family who lets me run for hours on end, without complaint that I'm gone or that the house is messy. And it's about my incredible Weight Watcher friends and runners who encourage me, hold me accountable and challenge me with their own victories and goals, and about friends who pray for me, and encourage me with their "Congrats! Way to go! Awesome." Finally, it's about my faith, and the God who sustains me and who has imprinted on my heart, "Nothing is impossible, with God." Nothing is impossible. I stand on the shore of a vast sea, my goals and dreams a shadow on the distant shore. I can hesitate, I can think that they are too lofty and too far away to attain. Or I can believe in the human spirit, and in my God who strengthens me. I take a deep breath and plunge in.