Friday, October 30, 2009

Marine Corps Marathon

The race that didn’t happen. If I don’t write about it, then it didn’t happen, right? If I ignore it long enough, it will go away. But I still have that big clunky medal and the $80 official jacket! Oh and the way too big race shirt.

So this is the short version (the long version no one but me will read because I poured out my soul on the paper and you really don’t want to see it, trust me):

Shivering, teeth chattering cold at the start, too many people, pushing crowding against me, weaving through the crowds, long lines at the potty – held it for 26+ miles. Noise, noise and more noise – horns and people. I can’t think, I can’t focus – just got to get away from these people. I’m tired and its only half way. Slowing, slowing. Maybe I should just stop, maybe I should find my family and go home. Can’t hear my inner voice – no drive, no ambition. Tired, dizzy, I think I’m going to pass out. Walk, run, cramp, walk, dizzy. Crying. why is this so hard? Want to drop to my knees and crawl to the finish. Dizzy. No! stay standing! Musn’t quit, musn’t quit……done. Give me room to breath, fake smile for the camera, where’s my family, crowding, never again…
Time: 4:48:05

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oil Creek 50 Mile - October 10, 2009

I seem to be developing a pattern here with my races - schedule other activities right up to the last minute, drive long distances to get to the race, and make sure not to get much sleep. I really did plan to leave earlier on Friday, honest, but I just needed to finish one little task at work... then, of course, traffic was terrible as I drove to drop off my daughter at her cousins. My other little problem is that I was driving with only one contact lens. Don't ask me where the other eye disappeared to, but I ended up taking a small detour back home to pick up the missing lens. Normally I wouldn't bother with trivial little details such as being able to read road signs, but being as I did eventually want to arrive at the race site, I decided to be prudent. At last, I was on the road. The first part of the trip was uneventful. I was happily listening to my books on CD and letting the miles click by. I ignored the gray clouds thickening to my west. By the time I got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike I could no longer deny the fact that, yes, it was going to rain. This part of the trip could only be described as rain, trucks, traffic, road work, fog, rain, trucks, traffic.... so much for making up time on the speedy interstate. Finally I was on the last part of my journey. Within 10 miles of my destination, a big sign loomed in front of me: "Road Closed Ahead - DETOUR". Detour! That's not on mapquest! By the time I rolled into Titusville, it was after 11pm. Since I had come into town a different way than intended, I was totally turned around. Eventually, some nice teen-aged boys hanging out in the McDonald's parking lot directed me to the school.

Squeaking into the school (wet shoes), I laid out my sleeping bag and pad in an empty spot on the gym floor and tried to get some sleep. I settled down into my comfy bag, closed my eyes and.. "ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!".......cough, cough........flush! I just had to laugh (note to self - earplugs next time). Just when I was starting to fall into that nice REM sleep, the 100 milers were waking up to get ready for their race. I laid there listening to the morning noises and wandering how long I could delay the inevitable - that soon I would need to get up and start getting ready.

The next hour was a flurry of activity. I dressed in my black skin-tights with the blue spider-web (compression) lines running down my legs, my pink camo shirt, my "Warrior Princess" vest (I had written that on the back of it). My arm sleeves made from colorful toe-socks, and my Dirty Gaitors over my shoes. I was ready for battle! Fortunately, the rain had stopped, and the air was cool and crisp. Headlamps on, we 50 milers lined up and were off. The first couple of miles were on the bike path. I was running with a group of people, all the while wondering why my headlamp was not putting out a strong light, since it had fresh batteries. This was fine for now, I was in a group of people and feeding off their light. I kept fiddling with the lamp but couldn't get it to go brighter. When we turned up the mountain trail, it was impossible to see. I stumbled and fell over something and let a few people go by me. Finally, I realized that the red cover was down. Duh! Rookie error. A few more adjustments and now I could see. It's interesting running in the dark. Your world becomes very small, it consists of a space of about three feet in diameter. Upward we climbed, an occasionally "Woot!", "It's time to party!," and "Gnarly!" As the early morning birds began to sing, we fell into a rhythm. I followed whoever was in front of me, walking when he walked, and running when he ran. I slipped in the mud (that's 2), then going down a steep descent I fell hard on the side of my left knee and my Garmin flew off my wrist, the band breaking. Someone behind yelled, "Man down!" Ultrarunners, being the nice people they are, waited to see if I was okay and we headed down, up and around to the first aid station. Jack O'Lanterns led us in, the glow from the pumpkins was welcoming. Quickly, I fueled up and was ready to tackle the next section. After being pointed in the right direction (guess it wasn't time for the short cut yet). I began a long climb up. Here, the runners started to spread out. I got passed by a lot of people, and passed a couple myself. I had stuck my Garmin in my pocket and there it stayed for the rest of the race. Now, I wouldn't know distance, pace or time - I would just keep moving forward.

The trails were beautiful and I was surrounded by shades of red, orange, yellow and green. There were several long stretches of single track, smooth dirt trails where I felt I was keeping a good 12 minute pace or better. These were broken up by an occasional downed tree to climb over, or a stretch of climbing that left me winded. I arrived at Aid Station #2, where the volunteers helped me retrieve my drop bag and offered me a multitude of food and drink. I drank a VESPA, and grabbed a protein bar from my bag.

The next section, after a nice brisk climb, led us into some cross-country ski trails. These trails were nice and wide, and a bit grassy. While the 100 milers and 50kers turned around, the 50 milers proceeded on a little further for a little out and back loop. On the way back I noticed the girl in front of me heading off a trail to the right. Our trail had a tree partially blocking the path, and she had taken the path of least resistance. "Wrong way!" I yelled, imagining what it would be like to go several miles before you realized you were lost.

Down and around, up and over, I ran. I talked with a runner who had been deployed in Iraq. He said one of the women in his unit had been given the name "Warrior Princess." I told him it was really a joke, I'm sort of a novelty for running the longer distances, and after encounters with bears, and bobcats while training, the name stuck - as a motivating force for me to keep going when the going gets tough...
We had another longer loop for the 50 milers. At one point it went straight up a steep incline under the power lines. It was on this loop that I was starting to feel fatigued. I thought I was keeping a consistent pace, but I'm sure about 10 runners passed me at this point. I was either slowing down, or they were speeding up. I didn't even know how far we had come, but I was hoping half-way. "Nope," one of the runners said, "probably about a 1/3." Without my Garmin, I had no reference for time or distance.

At some point we ran through an area where there were small cabins. In the middle was an unmanned table with some water and gels available. I grabbed a gel, filled my water bottle and headed out to where I thought the sign was pointing - up a wide road. However, I began to realize that there were no little pink flags marking the way. How strange. Perhaps, I missed a turn (I am, afterall, a bit directionally challenged). I turned around and ran back down the hill, and arrived just as some runners were heading down a single track trail off to my right. Yea, I just wanted to run a little extra mileage. Parts of this section were run on beautiful paths under the pines. Somewhere in here (I think), the 50 milers also had their final extra out and back. At last, I came out of the woods and onto a road. "Half a mile to the aid station." What a relief and to find out that I was at 28.5 miles was pure joy. Over half way! Again I was offered an array of foods and drinks. It was time to start drinking GatorDew - half Gatorade, half mountain dew. From here on out it would be my choice at the aid stations. Being gluten-free, I had to turn down many of the delights, like grilled cheese sandwiches and the variety of crackers and cookies - but chocolate covered expresso beans were a nice pick me up as well as a couple of slices of cheese which I took, and ate as I walked to start back on my journey.

This next section was the hardest for me of the whole day. It started with a steep climb and then I entered the "Twilight Zone." Seriously, where did everyone go? I ran and ran, what seemed mile after endless mile of trail, and trees. Was I really going anywhere? Had I entered an alternate reality? Then I started thinking about the next aid station. It was at the school and the finish line. But I wouldn't be finished. I would still have over 14 miles left. I didn't want to go back out, and do the loops again, and I didn't want to finish after dark. When I stumbled and fell for the 4th time of the day, a veil of self-pity came over me. My legs were tired, I was tired and felt I was making terrible progress. Every time I thought I was turning down into the final descent, the path would wind back up into another climb. "Relentless forward progress." I kept telling myself. "You're the Warrior Princess, remember. You're strong. Quit you're whining (the inner drill sergeant). And then suddenly I was back on the bike trail heading for Aid Station #4.

My first question was "What time is it?" 2:30pm. I had run over 35 miles in 8 1/2 hrs. It was possible to keep a good pace and finish relatively close to 12 hrs. I got my GatorDew, pulled another protein bar and VESPA from my drop bag and headed back out. For some reason, once I was there the self-doubts had disappeared and now all I wanted was to make good time. I was moving along, having gotten that 2nd or 3rd wind, when my bowels finally decided to start to move and I felt like I was going to burst. This was not good. Without time to make it to the next aid station I ducked into the woods and tried to relieve myself. Not as easy as I hoped. When I made it to Aid Station #1, I handed the volunteer my bottles, and told her to fill it with 1/2 Gatorade and 1/2 Mountain Dew. She looked at me skeptically, "You've done this before, they're not going to explode on me or anything?" I had to smile, then reassured her as I ran off to the port of potty. Why now when I was doing so well? Retrieving my bottles, I was shown the short cut (Yay) and within minutes was at Aid Station #3. Now I like that kind of short cut. A few more treats and then the last and final 7 miles of the journey.

Again, I found myself alone on the trails, but this time a wave of heavenly peace fell over me. Scripture starting pouring out of me - the most powerful being Isaiah 40:31
- those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint

God with with me in these mountains, His mountains, walking with me, and strengthening me. I would make it, I would finish - and maybe, even before dark. Tears started streaming down my face as I felt His presence in the stillness of the woods and my ever relentless forward motion.

Soon I was running down the bike path for the last time. I saw the school and turned to run across the finish line as the dying rays of the sun were slipping behind the horizon. The clock read 12:48:51. About an hour slower than I had hoped for, but I was done. I would have gotten on my knees and said a quick prayer, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get back up. So I just smiled up at God and said silently, "Thanks."

Post script:
After stretching and showering, I started the long trip home. No rain, the traffic was much lighter, but I was tired. The books on CD didn't seem to hold my interest as much and I kept stopping to get a snack, get gas, or just put my head back and rest for a few minutes. At 4am I pulled into my driveway, and at 8:30am I was in church leading worship as usual. My journey was over, and now it was time to rest. (until the Marine Corps Marathon in two weeks and the JFK50 in 6 - Aagh! am I crazy or what? No, I'm the Warrior Princess(insert theme song)).