Monday, February 23, 2009

Black Warrior 50K - 2/21/09

It is so nice to run and not have a tight cut-off looming over my head. I finished my 4th Black Warrior 50K in 8:21:38 in Moulton, AL at the Bankhead National Forest. I felt great all day. I love it when that happens! I love this course, and more importantly, this course loves me, lol. As long as Keith, the race director, puts on this race, I'm there. It's my streak race. I'm 4 for 4, coming there every year that it's been held. My previous finish times at the BW50K are 8:10:34, 7:32:39, and 8:05:31, so I am very happy with my finish this year.

It was cold at the start, but quickly warmed up to comfortable. The stream crossings were low this year, just covering the shoes. The first year I did this race, the biggest stream crossing brought water up to my thighs, and it was a lot colder that year than the last two years or this year. The mud was still there on various portions of the trail, but it wasn't as bad this year either. The race is majority single track horse trails, so you're really not sure if you're stepping in mud or horse poop. Keith says in his race instructions that if you're not stepping in horse poop, you're probably off-course. I agree!

We start on a 3 mile mostly uphill gravel/dirt road, and then we're on trails for the next 25 miles, before returning to the mostly downhill gravel/dirt road. There's plenty of pine needles on the trail, a few roots, a few rocks, little ups and downs, but all very runnable. We pass a few water falls, which are very pretty and soothing. Another runner commented during the race that he didn't realize he'd be sightseeing during his run. It's just that beautiful! That same runner also helped to pull me out of the mud, when one foot got stuck. I'm struggling to pull my foot out without losing my shoe, and this kind runner stops to give me a hand. By the next stream crossing, however, my muddy shoes get a good washing, lol.

My favorite running couple, Walt and Kendel from GA, were there. We ran a lot of the course together. Andy from FL was also there. It turns out that he was also at the Pensacola Marathon last weekend, and we just missed each other. I saw Diann and Graham there who are also BW50K streakers. Graham told me that he was taking it easy today, not wanting to burn himself out for the Mt Cheaha 50K the following weekend. He and Diann still finished a long time before I did, lol. Mona ran the 25K race as a last training run for the Mt Cheaha 50K also. Mona was the trail sweep the first year that I ran this race. Since I was the last person that year, she ran and talked with me, helping me to finish. We've been buddies ever since.

There's a portion of the course that we run twice, and the faster runners will loop the back of the packers on this portion. Walt, Kendel, and I were still running together when a runner came along and told us that we had missed a turn about 1.5 miles back. I knew that couldn't be right. If we had turned off the trail, we would have had flags on our left. From the race instructions, the flags are always on the right, and where the course overlaps and there are flags on the left and right, we were instructed to always follow the flags on the right. So, I knew we had not missed a turn, but I doubted myself for several miles afterward. All I could think about was that I could have been mistaken, and I had led two other runners off-course. My fears turned out to be unwarranted. We were definitely right where we should have been. Whew!

There had been controlled burns in the forest recently. We even passed a tree that was still on fire! I'm sure controlled burns are necessary for the health of the forest, but it's so sad to see the forest floor black as tar, with very few trees remaining in the area. The smoke aggravated my breathing and made it difficult to run in some sections, but I made it through okay.

At the finish, I ate a veggie burger and two brownies. A perfect ending to a perfect day, lol.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pensacola Marathon - 2/15/09

It's been a long time since I've been to a race and didn't see anyone that I knew. So there were long stretches of talking and listening to only the voices in my head, lol. I felt lost, like I wasn't meant to be there, lol.

My first running of the Pensacola Marathon was not that bad, however. My finishing time was typical - 5:41:11, and I was so elated to beat the 6 hour cut-off. But I don't think I would have made it, if it had not been for Walter.

For some strange reason, I thought that the entire race course would run along the bay, but the water was only visible along very short portions of Bayfront Parkway and Scenic Highway. Water is so calming to me, and it really would have lifted my spirits if I could have seen a little more of the Bay during the run. Other than the short sections of water and the downtown section towards the end of the loop, this course is not very scenic.

There were some neighborhood sections, but hardly any spectators, which was strange. Usually when a race runs through a neighborhood, at least a few of the residents come out and cheer us along. Other than the cops and volunteers manning the intersections and street crossings, the streets of Pensacola were pretty quiet. Granted, there was light rain for the majority of the race, but I would have thought that the relatively warm temperatures (60-70 degrees) would have brought out a few spectators. Oh, well . . . .

The course is a double loop, with a half-marathon taking off at the same time as the marathon. Because there are always more half-marathoners than marathoners in a multi-distance race, needless to say, the second loop was very lonely. I only talked briefly with one person during the first loop. I had seen him at the Tallahassee Marathon a few weeks ago, and that's basically how I started the conversation. Before long, however, we were leap-frogging each other, with him eventually getting and staying ahead of me for a long time. I used him as my rabbit, trying to run fast enough to keep him in sight as long as I could, lol. He had his 50 States and DC Marathon Group shirt on, so he was easy to spot. Some how within the last few miles of the race, I caught up and passed him, finishing a few minutes before he did. I never feel good when that happens and it's never intentional, but we all have to run our own race. My race is always against the course and the clock and not ever against another runner.

The second loop is where I met Walter. He had taken a half-hour early start. I remarked to him that I wasn't aware that the race had an early start, and he told me he had to request it. He said he was the only one who took the early start, however. Walter is from NY and also a fellow 50 Stater. He's getting very close to finishing and says he probably won't attempt a second go around. I'm not holding him to that statement, because I said the same thing when I finished the States in 2006, lol. I am now 6 states away from finishing my second go around, lol.

When I came upon Walter, I was dragging, looking at my watch every 5 minutes, trying to do math on the run, and worrying about the 6-hour cut-off. It didn't look like I would make it, but I had to put in enough effort to at least try. I couldn't take another DNF 2 weekends in a row. Walter seemed to be moving along well at a brisk, race-walking pace. I fell in line with him, and we started chatting. We must have talked and walked for a good 4 miles. Lo and behold, I was swinging my arms, thrusting my hips forward, head held high, laughing, talking, and enjoying Walter's company. I had been so lonely during the majority of the race, and Walter put some pep back into my step.

I felt like running, but I didn't want to leave my newly found running buddy. He commented a couple of times that I was helping him to push a little faster and he didn't know how much longer he'd be able to keep up with me. Wow! And here I was thinking the same thing about him! But at last, as it happens in races, it gets to a point when two runners have to part company. We said our good-byes and Walter asks me to turn around and smile so that he could take my picture. Goodness, I hope I didn't break this nice man's camera, lol.

So, I was wrong. I may have been lost, but Walter found me. And I was exactly where I was meant to be. Thanks, Walter, for making my Pensacola Marathon a memorable experience.

Monday, February 9, 2009

DNF at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race - 2/7/09

I absolutely hate not finishing a race! I pulled myself from the RR100 at mile 72 at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning at the Dam Road Aid Station. I had to "run" 8 miles in 2.5 hours to make the 6:00 a.m. cut-off to start the last 20 mile loop. Most people can walk 4 miles an hour. How easy it sounds now! But, at the time, I knew I couldn't do it . . . on trails, in the dark, tired, 72 miles on my feet, and getting slower. I was moving about 3 to 3.5 miles an hour. I kept checking my watch, trying to do math on the run. Maybe, I kept telling myself. Run a little more, walk a little less, but my running pace was as slow as my walking pace. Frustration and reality set in, and I started crying, using my outside voice. If anyone was near me in the woods, they would have thought I was in pain, that I had tripped and fallen on one of those darn roots, or was dying. It hurts my heart so much to give up, to quit. I've finished four 100 Mile races, 2 of them were at the RR100, so I know how to finish these races. But I couldn't make up time that I had been losing all day since the first 20 mile loop. I could not make myself go any faster than I was going. And I tried. I tried so, so very hard.

It's just a race. That's what a fellow runner told me afterwards. She had also DNF'd due to stomach problems from the heat. In my mind, she had a legitimate reason for not finishing. I, on the other hand, did not have a good reason for quitting. It was hot, reaching a high of 78, one of the volunteers said. Although I don't like extreme temperatures, I handled the heat pretty well. I had no stomach issues and no blister problems, the 2 most common reasons I heard from others who also did not finish. I ate and drank well, moving efficiently through the aid stations. I was just slow on the run, which has always been a problem for me. I need to lose weight. I need to do speed work and strength training. I need to run more trails during the week. I need to eat better. I need to get more sleep. I need to race less. I need to re-evaluate what I'm doing wrong and capitalize on the few things that I'm doing right. I need to stop crying, stop wallowing in my sadness, stop feeling sorry for myself. Only a fool continues to do the same things over and over and expects a different outcome (or something to that effect).

I have to disagree with my running buddy, however. For me, it's not just a race. It's part of my life. It's a challenge, an experience. I feel awesome when I overcome something that's difficult. It's like figuring out the solution to a problem, working a 1000 piece puzzle for countless hours, and ending up with a beautiful picture. If it was just a race, I would not care how I did. In fact, I probably wouldn't race. It's expensive, time-consuming, self-absorbed, and unpredictable. DNFs are expensive a$$ training runs! I could run day in and day out for free and never race, but that would be easy. My running is only important to me, totally selfish, and I realize that. It has no impact on the world. But without the racing aspect, socializing with other runners, running in beautiful places that I probably would otherwise never experience, and testing myself, my running would not hold the special place in my heart that it does.

Mentally, DNF's are difficult for me. I don't handle them well. I cry as if I've lost my best friend. I am upset, angry with myself. It screws up the little confidence that I do have. It takes away from one of the things in my life that I love. I have no husband, no kids of my own, and no pets or plants to take care of. I do have my family and friends that I'm grateful for. I have a job that allows me to attend my races, both financially and timewise. I have a decent home and a car that has way too many miles on it from travelling to races but still drives like new. My health is not the greatest, but I'm still blessed with more than I deserve. And believe me, I thank my higher power for allowing me to be able to do what I can do.

But I'm greedy. I want my running to go well all of the time. And that's a flaw in my character. Being a runner defines who I am and if it's not perfect in my eyes, then I feel inadequate, unworthy, less than human. I feel that there's no meaning to my life. It's aweful. Running . . . my love, my obsession, my addiction is about as bad as drugs, alcohol, and fine men. But if I give up what makes me feel good sometimes and bad at other times, then what do I do? What if running is taken away from me? Could I "live" without it? The thought makes me queasy to my stomach.

My momma, who is not a runner, sent an e-mail to me this morning, asking how my trip was this weekend. I e-mailed her back, telling her about my DNF. And do you know what she replied? "72 miles is a finisher to me. Go girl go!!! Love ya too!!" My momma, bless her heart, sees something that I'll probably never be able to see. Maybe she saw it as just a race, just as my running buddy did. Maybe she feels that nothing has changed. I'm still her daughter, and she still loves me. After such a disappointing weekend, my momma, in very simple terms, gave me something I needed and something to hold close to my heart. She didn't tell me to suck it up and stop whining. She didn't tell me that there will be other races. She didn't tell me how happy I should be to be able to run 72 miles. She just let me know that everything is okay. I love her for that.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tallahassee Marathon - 2/1/09

What a difference a week makes! I had my fastest (although still slow) marathon in almost a year. I was smoking - 5:12:12, lol! At one point, I was thinking that I could even break 5 hours. Silly me!

I felt great all day. It could have been the very flat course, the wonderful weather, the pressure of a 6 hour cut-off, or just luck. Whatever it was, I'd like to bottle it up and save it for my next marathon.

This was my first time running the Tallahassee Marathon in sunny Florida. About 22 miles of the race is on a bike path. The local cyclists were very courteous and encouraging. It's an out-n-back course, starting and finishing on the campus of Florida State University, home of the Seminoles. The 2 miles to and from the bike path are not the most scenic areas of Tallahassee, but the bike path makes up for that.

I lived in Tallahassee for about 3 months in 1993 during a summer internship at Florida A&M University. Not having "free" access to a gym, I took up walking outside. And more walking. And even more walking. I would walk about 10 miles a day, every day. But since it was taking up so much time (time away from my research), I decided that I needed to throw in some "run" breaks to shorten my workout time. I slowly increased the running time but probably never ran more than 2 or 3 miles within each 10 mile session.

I had never been a runner. I tried out for the track team in Junior High School because one of my friends was trying out, and I was promptly cut on the first day. My friend, however, went on to make the team. And up until Tallahassee, some 10 plus years later, I had not run. But I have been running ever since that stay in Tallahassee. So I've come full circle, so to speak, running the Tallahassee Marathon.

There are pros and cons to running an out-n-back course. I love to see all of the elite runners coming toward me on their way to the finish. The guy that won was all alone. The second place guy was a good 10 minutes behind. I saw a couple of my running buddies ahead of me. Peter from NY was way out in front. Phil from AL and Andy from FL were also ahead and looking strong. Not only do you see who's in front, you get to see whose behind. Vicki Sue from FL was race walking at a blazing pace. I really do need to learn how to do that!

And the cons . . . you realize how many people are in front of you and how few people are behind, lol. It's a humbling thing, I tell you.

The finisher's medal is nice, but the pizza was all gone by the time I finished. Oh, well . . . I still have my 5:12:12!