Monday, January 26, 2009

Callaway Gardens Marathon - 1/25/09

This was my 4th run of the Callaway Gardens Marathon in Pine Mountain, GA. In 2006, I ran a 5:01:03 and received a plaque for finishing 2nd in my age group. In 2007, I ran a 4:40:38 and didn't even place in my age group, lol. It's been very, very slow since then. Last year, I finished in 5:56:18. This year, my finish time was 6:26:51. I took the one hour early start (along with about 10 other runners). There's a 5.5 hour cut-off for this race, so the early start gives us 6.5 hours to finish. I am in no shape to run a marathon in less than 5.5 hours and finishing in less than 4 minutes under the cut-off makes me question whether I should be "running" at all. But that's just the "ugh" side of me showing. Let's move on to why Sunday was such a great day.

I love this course. That's why I keep coming back. It's a double loop, all within the confines of Callaway Gardens, so there's very little traffic on the roads. There's a nice lake we circle and hills galore. After the hilly road section, there's a relatively flat, bike path for a few miles. We usually get a long sleeve cotton shirt, but this year we got windshirts. I love windshirts! And it's a loud, lime green color. This thing may glow in the dark, lol. Unfortunately, they ran out of medals this year, but the volunteer at the finish took our names and addresses so that the medals could be mailed to us. This works.

I ran the entire race with Frances from IL. What a treat to run with her! Her husband, Joe, was fast enough to take the regular start. In fact, we started an hour early, and he still finished before we did.

Vicki Sue from FL is the "Balloon Lady" at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL. Runners have to stay in front of Vicki Sue to get an official finish at Mercedes. She is on a strict 6 hour pace, race-walking the entire way. Absolutely incredible! If I could walk as fast as she does, I would never run, lol. Frances and I chatted with Vicki Sue a little during the first loop, but it wasn't long before she left us in her dust. Cheryl, also from FL, joined us on the second loop. We three pretty much finished the race together, chatting the entire way.

Anne from GA was also there. She had her new hubby with her. She said he's a great crew person. This is important when you run long distance races, lol. Anne is tough, finishing the Umstead 100 Mile in 2008. I, on the other hand, had problems and had to take a 50 Mile finish at Umstead last year. I'm on the wait list for 2009, so hopefully, I'll be able to redeem myself.

I talked with Scott and Al, also from GA, briefly during the race. These two are also fast runners that do not need an early start. Scott has written a wonderful book about his running career and literally running every day (Running Through My Mind: Confessions of an Every Day Runner). He is such a down to earth guy. He's the race director for the Peachtree City 50K, which I've run twice, and he does a wonderful job. Al asked about Ghost Town, since he ran it in 2007 as I did. I joked with Scott about giving Ghost Town a try. Scott doesn't particularly care for trails, although he's done very well at the Western States 100 Mile.

I also ran a little with Chris from TN. I met Chris at a marathon in WA of all places in 2007. I had taken an early start at that race as well. Chris is very fast, but just as he did yesterday, he slowed down to chat a while.

I met a new running buddy, Renita, a fellow Marathon Maniac. Renita from DC had way too much energy at the end of the marathon. In fact, I joked with her about getting her started on ultras, lol. She, too, was fast enough to take the regular start, but she slowed down long enough to introduce herself. This would be her 10th marathon state, which is the minimum needed to sign up for the 50 States Marathon Club. I'll be seeing more of her in the future, I'm sure.

And last, but not least, my friend Peter from NY was there. He drove 1100 miles to run this race. Peter is very fast, finishing 19th overall on Sunday. We stayed at the same hotel the night before the race and lucked up getting rooms right next to each other. I met Peter at Around the Lake 24-Hour in Wakefield, MA in 2008. He was doing the 12-Hour race and thinking about quitting early. Since I would be out there longer and I'm always willing to entertain company in a race, I convinced him to walk a few loops with me. We've been friends ever since. He's planning to also run the Tallahassee Marathon this upcoming Sunday, so I'll see him again soon.

So Sunday was like a party for me, a social gathering, a little get-together. I ran with several of my running buddies that I've known for a while and acquired a new one. What more could a girl want? It could not have been a more perfect day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ghost Town 38.5 Mile - 1/18/09

This was my second time at the Ghost Town 38.5 Mile held in Hillsboro, NM. In 2007, I ran this race in 10:28:18, but I was about a half hour slower this year, finishing in 11:00:50. Don't let the slow times fool you. I actually love this course, even though it's difficult in some sections. And the altitude (Hillsboro is at 5100 feet) is no joke. The Gila National Forest is absolutely beautiful and is definitely worth the trip.

We start in the dark from the race director's house. Susan is an unbelievable race director. She is so attentive to her runners and volunteers. I just love her energy and spirit. She had breakfast at the start for us, and she allowed runners to camp out on her property the night before. Hillsboro is pretty much a ghost town. About 30 miles away is a not much bigger town called Truth or Consequences. Yes, just like the old game show! I stayed there this year and in 2007.

Three of my favorite running buddies were here - Kendel and Walt from GA and Jim from CA. We ran the first few miles of the highway section together. Walt ran the entire Appalachian Trail last year. His wife Kendel is an accomplished marathoner/ultramarathoner as well. She probably doesn't remember this, but I met her during a marathon out west a few years ago. She was wearing an Umstead 100 Mile shirt, and I had yet to run a 100 miler. She told me about her DNF at 70+ miles one year because she got so sleepy, she kept veering off trail. She returned a year later and finished, but I believe she was the one to inspire me to try a 100 miler. Jim is unbelievable. I think he finished close to 80 marathons/ultramathons in 2008.

This year the highway section was not as windy as the last time I did this race. We could actually run this 6 mile stretch w/o getting blown backwards. AS #1 is the start of the dirt road portion of the race. This section rolls a little, but it's pretty runnable. Shortly after AS #2, Kendel and Walt found their groove and left me in the dust. Jim had taken off from our little pack somewhere along the highway section. I enjoyed running with them and was sad that I was not able to keep up. Everyone has to run their own race, and unfortunately, I usually have to run my own race alone because I'm not fast enough to keep up with anyone. Oh, well . . . it's a good thing that me, myself, and I get along so well, lol.

The first really tough portion of this race is about a 2 mile climb up to an old mine. It's pretty rugged, with lots of rocks and overgrown grasses along the trail. There was a very short portion that had the remains of snow on the ground. The creek beds were pretty dry, except for a patch of ice at the beginning of this section. When I reached the top of this climb, where a volunteer was waiting with water and a clip board to check each runner off as they made it to the top, I had to stop to catch my breath. I didn't really want to leave the volunteer (we were having a nice little chit-chat), but this is a race, and there is a 12-hour cut-off to contend with, so I made my way back down. Going back down the "mountain" I saw Jay making her way up. I met Jay at the airport the day after GT '07. She's a very nice lady, but she looked like she was on a mission, so we said short hellos and continued on our separate ways.

As I made my way back onto the dirt road section, I saw a runner headed in the opposite direction. Good grief! That meant I was at about 15 miles and he was at 26 miles. The volunteer at this junction told me that he was the 3rd guy through on the way back towards the finish. There would be some fast times on this course this year! I noticed that the volunteer had on a Bandera 100K fleece pull-over. I asked the obvious question, "did you run the 100K at Bandera last weekend?" He said that he did and that it was his last long run before the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. I told him that I was at the Bandera 100K as well, and that I would see him at Rocky, too. I think his name was Brian, but my old-timer's disease keeps me from retaining names sometimes.

Okay, let's push on, up to AS #3. I mentioned last time how much I love food. Well, AS #3 had boiled potatoes with little packets of salt. Yum, yum! I ate my fill, because I knew the really hard portion of the course was coming up (N. Percha Creek to Cave Creek). This 4 mile section is rugged, with steep climbs. Matt, Susan's husband, drives his truck through here to set up AS #4. I don't see how he does it. He must be a magician. I think Susan said that it takes him about 1.5 hours to drive the 4 mile section. That's how bad it is! It's rocks on top of rocks, with huge potholes (for lack of a better term) where I could just imagine the truck getting stuck, and then what? Susan sent an e-mail out to everyone saying that this would be the last year that we used this section. It's too dangerous. Matt made it into Cave Creek okay, but coming out was another story. She did not go into detail. There was no need; this section is pretty well self-explanatory.

It took me 1.5 hours as well to get from the N. Percha Creek to Cave Creek and one hour and 40 minutes to get back to AS#5 (was AS#3). There is no running for me on the majority of this section. I stopped several times to catch my breath on the climbs and to take in the lovely views at the top. The word beautiful doesn't do this section justice. I saw several runners on their way back to the finish as I made my way to Matt and the turn-around. There was another patch of snow in this section. It was so odd to see snow when all around there seemed to be no signs of it having snowed. Was I hallucinating, lol?

There were several people on horses along the course. They were all very courteous, asking if we were doing okay, and stepping off the trail to let us through. On this particularly rough section of the trail, the rider turned his horse from the trail to let me go by. As I was passing them, the horse lets out the waste from his last meal. Plop! "Ohhh," I said, and "ooops" said the rider. I laughed as I passed, but another inch closer to that horse and my trail shoes would not have come home with me, lol.

Matt had two other volunteers with him at Cave Creek. I joked with them about being scared doing that drive in the truck with Matt. One of the guys commented that they weren't scared, because it was dark when they did the drive. Yes, that makes sense. If you can't see where you're going, why be afraid? I wondered what they thought about the drive on their way out, in the day light!

So, finally, I made it back to AS#5 and the runnable, although rolling hills, dirt road. I was too pooped to pop at this point (25 miles). All I could think of was that I had about a half-marathon to go. I was mentally out of the race and too ready to be done. I hate when that happens!

So, what do I do to get through the last 13 miles or so? I played games with myself. I picked a point along the course to run to, and then I walked to another point that I'd chosen, and then I would take off running again. Sometimes, I would count my running steps up to 100 or 200 and then I'd walk the same amount of steps before running again. I took in all of the beauty around me, breathing deeply and listening to my heart beats, my footsteps, and the peacefulness around me. And I thanked my higher power for allowing me to do what I do.

AS #6 and AS #7 came and went. I was an hour under cut-off at AS #7, so there was no rush, no panic attack that I wouldn't make the last 4 miles in under 12 hours.

At the finish, Susan greets me with a hug. I am so happy to see her. Other runners and their friends and families are hanging out for the bar-b-que, clapping in the last few runners. Kendel and Walt have finished long before I did and so has Jim. Jim is in his truck with attached camper, waving good-bye to everyone. He'll be in Hawaii for a double this upcoming weekend. Kendel massages my shoulders for me. I told Walt, "she's wonderful." Kendel chimes in, "yes, that's what Walt tells me." They are indeed a cute couple.

I sit with Jim and Sue from VA, chit-chatting until I get cold and have to leave. Jim finished way ahead of me also. Sue didn't run today, but she handed out certificates and our finisher's award (a nice bag, with the Ghost Town logo on it and chocolate inside). Our goodie bag at packet pick-up was stocked full. My favorite thing amongst the goodies was the red hat with the Ghost Town logo.

All in all, it was a good day!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bandera 100K - 1/10/09

My first race for 2009 was the Bandera 100K in Bandera, TX. This was the second year that I ran this race. The course hates me, but that's besides the point, lol. It's all rocks for the most part. The little reprieves of flat, grassy, rock-free, and runnable sections don't last very long and don't make up for the rocks or the straight up and down (no switchbacks) "hills", which become mini-mountains during the night.

You know a course is difficult, if parts of it are given euphemisms:

Sky Island - Sounds pleasant, doesn't it? But the effort that it took to climb and descend this thing while navigating so many rocks so early in the race is unbelievable. I was so high up I thought I could touch the sky. The good thing was that I was able to do this "hill" both times while the sun was still awake.

Ice Cream Hill - What a cute name, right? There is nothing cute about this climb. Although once you top out, the view below is beautiful. Then again, you have to run (i.e., slip and slide on the rocks) down the other side.

Three Sisters - These are some hard-core, ghetto divas. These hills are not the motherly type and do not nurture. Pampering is not their style. At night, they are down right scary.

Lucky Peak - Nope, I was not feeling lucky at all. Well, maybe it was luck that I didn't fall on what my momma gave me trying to go up and down this monster.

Cairn's Climb - I saw quite a few "cairns". The fact that someone would actually take the time to build these little monuments of rocks while climbing this "hill" amazes me. Maybe whoever built them just needed a break from climbing/descending. I can't tell you the number of times I wanted to knock those little suckers over, especially at night. I guess I could have; no one was around to see me do it at that point, lol.

Boyles Bump - If that's a bump, it must be on steroids. More slipping and sliding from the loose rocks, all shapes and sizes, and trail that is indistinguishable if not for the flags and glow sticks in the night. Just as you think you've topped out, the trail starts climbing again. Fun, fun, fun.

So, why did I go back, even though I knew what I was in for? It has a 24-hour cut-off! Even I can finish 62 miles in 24 hours. Last year I finished in 21:21:36. This year, for whatever reason, I finished in 20:43:43. I was absolutely ecstatic!

I love food, and the aid stations and volunteers were delightful. The Last Chance AS had pancakes and syrup at night, right before the five mile stretch of Cairn's and Boyle's Bump. Grilled cheese sandwiches (my favorite food during an ultra) at the Cross Roads AS were wonderful. This AS comes before and after the Three Sisters and is where I had my drop bag. Essentially, we hit this AS 4 times, which means I had about 4 grilled cheese sandwiches! Nachos and Chapas had vegetarian red beans and rice. Delicious!

The fleece pull-over and the finishing buckle are very nice and worth the rocks. The weather wasn't too bad, except for the wind. Several times I thought I'd be blown off the mountains, and I'm a hefty, little woman. I wondered how my buddy Fred was handling the wind. He weighs a lot less than I do, and I could just imagine the wind picking him up and dumping him in a ravine. Fred, btw, is absolutely amazing. He finished in 17:22:14. He left me in the rocks on the climb up Sky Island on the first loop.

Even though it was probably above freezing temperatures, I was very comfortable in 2 shirts, tights, a jacket, gloves, and a hat. I know that seems like a lot, but I don't move fast enough to wear less in the winter, lol.

No animal sightings. I did wonder about the cougar that lives in the Hill Country State Natural Area. During the night, I heard all types of sounds that I never heard during the day. I never turned my head to see where the sounds came from. My head was down, headlamp and hand-held light leading my way, watching for that trick rock that would take me down. I slipped and slid, but never fell. This was a good thing.

Have I mentioned that Bandera ROCKS?!