Monday, June 22, 2009

Expensive A$$ Training Run #4 - 6/20/09

Tiger, Charlie, and Lynn before the start
I think I'm getting the hang of DNFing races. At this rate, by the end of the year, I will DNF more races than I finish, lol. I just hope I don't get too comfortable with the DNF. I had to laugh at myself this weekend, however, because the whole experience was nonsensical. I was in over my head and out of my league. I told the sweep that this would be the first DNF that I wouldn't feel too badly about. I was miserable, so I really did not mind being pulled from the race. I timed out at the 10.5 mile aid station of the Highlands Sky 40 Mile about 45 minutes over the cut-off. I wasn't running at all. I could barely walk. I really just did not want to be there. I don't say that very often about runs that I do. This feeling was so unusual for me.

I had been warned several times about the toughness of this race, but I'm hard-headed and stubborn. I wanted to at least try it, because I had also heard that this was a beautiful course. I am all about some beautiful scenery. I have no idea if any of that beauty was in the first 10.5 miles, however, because my head was down, looking for roots and rocks that would trip me unexpectedly. I had also been told that if I could get through the first 20 miles, the second half would be relatively easier. Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of whether that is true or not either, since I wasn't able to complete the first half of the race.

We parked at the finish at the Canaan Valley Lodge near Davis, WV and were bussed to the start near the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in Laneville, WV. Waiting around for the start, I reconnected with Charlie (TN) and Lynn (TN). The last time I saw them was at the Ghost Town 38.5 Mile in 2007. At the time, they were living in Colorado, but they had recently decided to move back to the southeast. Caroline (VA) was also there. She had offered to share her room with me, but I knew I would arrive late on Friday and didn't want to wake her in the middle of the night. Instead, I slept for a few hours in the car in the parking lot of the lodge.

All four of us started out on the road section together, but my running buddies were soon ahead of me. Before I even hit the trail section, the sweep was right with me, and nobody else was in sight. This is the first sign that I am not having a good race, lol. The sweep, Mike (WV), had run this course in about 9 hours. That's very fast! He would run ahead of me, pull the streamers from the trees that were used to mark the course, and then run back to check up on me. I felt guilty for not being able to keep up with him!

About the time that we hit the trail section, it started to rain. It had stormed during the drive up on Friday, rained during the night, and now the rain was again coming down steadily and heavily. This is the second sign that I am not having a good race, lol. At least it wasn't hot, I thought.

We were in a meadow, which was relatively flat and should have been runnable, if not for the rocks. My glasses were fogging up badly at this point, so I had a difficult time seeing where I was stepping. I just kept walking as fast as I could, following Mike. We crossed a rushing stream before heading up the mountain. This is when I almost fell apart and recognized the final sign of not having a good day. I would trudge a few feet, stop to catch my breath, and trudge some more. I could see Mike running ahead, pulling streamers, and then waiting for me. He would ask if I was okay, let me know what the trail was like ahead, and then he would take off again. Poor Mike must have put in at least 20 miles, running back and forth to check on me. At one point, I apologized to him for being so slow. He was nice about it, saying that he was just doing his job. He even gave me one of his gels, after we had been out longer than expected and before hitting the 10.5 mile aid station.

Once we reached the top of the mountain, it was relatively flat again, but now we had roots in addition to the rocks, and get this, the trail was completely flooded. As many trails as I have run, I had never seen entire sections of trail covered in water like these trails were. It would have been easier to just lie down and swim the trail. I couldn't figure out how to run on or through that much water, lol. It was cold on the ridge, and now my feet were freezing from the water. Most of the time, the water came up to my calves, but there was one section where the water came up to my thighs. Later, after I had been pulled from the race, I was told that some sections were waist high, and a stream crossing was chest high. The race director was trying to figure out how to get a rope out to that particular stream crossing to help runners get across. This was not happening. I can't wait to read race reports of those that were able to finish the course. I want to know how they did it and stayed within the cut-offs.

The cut-off for the 10.5 mile aid station came and went, and Mike and I were still out on the flooded course. We were both so off pace that we couldn't figure out how far we had gone or how much further we had to go. Somehow, we finally made it. I was promptly asked to turn in my bib number.

There was one other girl at the aid station who had also been pulled for time. I later heard that she gave the volunteers a hard time about not being allowed to continue. She protested that she would go on even without aid. Of course, they still would not let her continue. As much as I hate DNFing, I will never argue with a volunteer about being pulled from a race. These volunteers are spending their weekend out there supporting us for hours, unpaid, and in all types of weather conditions, and it's unfair and selfish to be disrespectful when they are doing what they've been told and are trying to help. It's just my pet peeve and not worth two cents in the end, I suppose.

The aid station was pretty much packed up and ready to go. I wished Mike well and thanked him for his help. The last person that had been allowed to continue had left 30 minutes before, so he had some running to do to catch them. He is such a good runner, even through the flooded trails, that I'm sure it was not a problem for him.

I climbed into the truck. We picked up another guy at the next aid station who had dropped out due to back spasms from all of the twisting through the flooded trails. As we were leaving, we also saw four runners pulled for time climbing into the back of another truck. We were all having bad days.

I thanked Lydia and Margaret, the volunteers who drove us back to the lodge. I quickly changed from my wet clothes and dumped the mud from my shoes and socks. It had stopped raining, but the streams were still rising I heard. I'm a wimp, I thought, and a slow one at that. I headed for home much earlier than I thought I would have.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50 Mile - 6/13/09

Josh (TN), the marathon winner

Volunteers, Tiger, and 50 miler, Andy (NC), at the finish

"You can beat 13 hours. Run!" Nothing like an enthusiastic race director ushering in his last runner. I shake my head. He's joking, right? So what do I do? Run, of course, lol.

I have coined this race "the 3H's" - hills, heat, and humidity, lol. We're in a small town called Ellerbe, NC in the middle of June. How else could it be described? But what a neat little race!

We started at 6:00 p.m., and the temperature was in the 90s. The best advice that Doug, the race director, gave us was to start off slow and wait until it cooled off at night before picking up the pace. The course is 10 miles, repeated 5 times for the 50 milers. The first section of the course is a 6 mile loop, and the second section is a 4 mile out-n-back. The Boogie also includes a marathon. Doug said that this was the first time his race has filled up. There were a couple of people running as approved "bandits", since they couldn't get into the race. One of these runners was using this race as a training run for the Badwater 135 Mile Race next month in Death Valley. Wow!

It was a 9 hour drive to Ellerbe, and I arrived at the race about an hour before the start and picked up my race number. One of the things that attracted me to this race was the registration options. I ran a 50 miler for $15! Doug offers three discounts on the registration fee, and I took all three - no t-shirt, no finisher's mug, and the bottle credit. The bottle credit means that I would carry my own bottle for fluids, saving the cups at the aid stations for those that pay for that privilege. I loved this! More race directors should give this approach a try.

Another thing that attracted my attention was the 15 hour cut-off for the 50 miler. Granted, there was an intermediate cut-off of 10 hours at the 40 mile point that had me a little worried. But, I thought, a 10 hour cut-off at 40 miles allows a very generous 5 hours to complete the last 10 miles. It wasn't balanced, so there had to be some leniency to the cut-off at 40 miles, right?

I talked with Marcia (NC) and Rita (NC) before the start. Marcia informed me that the 40 mile cut-off was not strict. She had run the 50 miler last year, and she said there was a runner that was allowed to continue past the cut-off. That took the pressure off! Marcia and Rita ran the marathon. I saw them on the out-n-back portion of the course for the first couple of loops. They were so close behind me that I thought they would eventually pass me, but they didn't. They appeared to be having fun and having a good race.

There were 2 porta potties in the start/finish area, which was right outside the Bethel Baptist Church. Signs on the doors of the porta potties read "If it's brown, come on in, but if it's yellow, be a good fellow, and go around" or something to that effect. I was puzzled before I stepped inside. Surely, Doug didn't want women squatting in the woods behind the church, lol. I decided to use the porta potty. Who's going to know if I excreted yellow or brown, lol?

As I was leaving the porta potty, a runner asked if I was from Tennessee. When I told him that I was, he said that we had a mutual friend, Dallas (TN). Josh (TN) is very nice, very young, and very fast. We chatted a little before we both hurried off to make final preparations for the race. Josh had an excellent race. He won!

My running buddy, Don (NC), and his 2 sons, Matt (whom I did not get a chance to meet) and Brad (whom I've been in a number of races with), were running the marathon also. Brad, however, was doing something a little different. He was completing his first Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles the morning of the race, cycling 112 miles to Ellerbe, and then running the marathon. He arrived at the church on his bike about 15 minutes before the start. Truly amazing!

We lined up on the road in front of the church, 50 milers facing right to start the 6 mile loop and marathoners facing left to do their short out-n-back before following us on the 6 mile loop. It was hot, but we were running down hill. We had already forgotten what Doug had said about starting off slow while the sun was up, lol.

It did not take long before the marathoners came by us. Josh was looking strong at the head of the pack. Brad came cruising by and slowed down to chat for a minute. I asked him how long was the bike ride down to the race. He told me that it had taken about 7 hours, but he had stopped to have lunch. Imagine that! He had time to stop and have lunch, lol! Soon afterwards, Don caught up to me. We also chatted for a bit before he took off at a blazing pace.

The most inspirational sight was Fred (NC) and Ivan (NC). I don't personally know either one of them, but I've read plenty about them. Fred runs with Ivan, who was blinded while fighting in Iraq. A white string tied into a loop on both of the runners' wrists is what keeps them on pace. They would go on to finish the 50 miler together. Congratulations!

About half-way through the 6 mile loop was another aid station, right before the long climb back up to the start/finish area. Our cars were parked along the main road for easy access to whatever we needed. As I approached the main aid station at the church, a guy came up to me, introducing himself as Joey (NC). I've read plenty about Joey and know that he is a remarkable ultrarunner. The unanswered question is how did he know who I was, lol?

I headed off to the out-n-back section. It was a 2 mile down hill runner's dream, but of course, at the turn-around, it was a 2 mile slog back up the hill. I would walk that 2 mile stretch on every loop!

I arrived back at the aid station in the start/finish area, finishing the first loop in 2.5 hours. Marcia had said that Doug wanted everyone to run at least that pace per loop. But if I was at 2.5 hours for the first loop, there was no way I would be at 2.5 hours by the 5th loop.

Starting the second loop, I hear Josh behind me. "Run with me. We need a 9:30 pace." Although the sun was going down, it was not quite dark, so I was not hallucinating, lol. Josh stayed with me long enough to tell me that the second place runner was starting to walk the hills. "That's it. Right there," he said. I'm running 9:30?! I'm going to pass out trying to keep up with the leader who is lapping me, by the way, lol. I stayed with him for less than a minute before he continued his race. That's the benefit of a looped course. I get to say that I ran with the elite, lol.

From then on, it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I finished the 2nd loop in 2.5 hours again. This was beginning to look promising. Maybe I could maintain this 2.5 hour pace per loop. It definitely felt right to me.

The main aid station had cantaloupe and veggie burgers cut in half. Yum, yum! This became my staple throughout the night along with plenty of water, gatorade, and a can of coke for the 3rd and 4th loops.

During the night, I kept a watch out for the rattlesnakes and crazy local drivers, only because during the race briefing, Doug had told us a funny story. One year, a driver had come upon him during the race and asked why these crazy runners were out here with all of the rattlesnakes that come onto the road at night. The driver was so concerned about the safety of the runners, fearing that the runners would be bitten, that he removed a rattlesnake from the road. Doug looked in the back seat of the car, and sure enough, there was a rattlesnake in a box. Personally, I would much rather have a rattlesnake on the road than in the back seat of my car, but that's just me, lol. I'm happy to report that I saw no rattlesnakes at the Boogie.

My 3rd loop was right on pace at 2.5 hours. I finally slowed down on the 4th loop. I made it back to the church 15 minutes past the cut-off. However, neither the volunteers nor I said anything about it, so I started the 5th loop, lol.

During the last loop, I came upon a poor runner that was weaving. He didn't have a flashlight or any reflective gear, so it took a while to figure out what exactly was in front of me. I finally caught up to him, probably waking him up, lol. He said that his body felt fine, but he just couldn't stay awake. I told him that I've been there myself and that he would be just fine. I felt guilty leaving him, but we had less than 10 miles to finish. My next to last place position did not last long. When the sun came up, my sleepy runner woke up and passed me as he ran up the last hill, lol.

At the finish, I am given a beautiful finisher's mug. I tell Doug that I did not pay for the mug, but he insisted that the last runner must have a mug. I am honored. Thanks, Doug!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Monthly Treatment - 6/9/09

After checking in at the front desk, paying the insurance co-payment, getting weighed (down one pound as I thought, lol), and having my blood pressure and temperature checked, it was time for the usual ordeal - having blood drawn. The nurses always have a hard time drawing blood from my veins. I've been told often that I have relatively small veins, but the nurses always make at least one attempt. I think it stresses them out more than me when they miss the vein, so I try to put them out of their misery and ask them to access my port instead. I'm always asked the same question, "Are you having treatment today?" Yes, I'm having Zometa. They will then proceed to get one of the nurses from the treatment room to come and access my port and fill several small tubes with my blood.

I am then shown to a private room to wait for my oncologist. Today was a short wait, as I had a very early appointment and there weren't as many patients that early in the morning. My oncologist is younger than I am, very professional, and gets straight down to business. I don't mind. She's busy, and I really want to get in and out of there as fast as possible, as it's the least of my favorite places to be.

I am told that my blood counts have fallen again. The anemia has become serious. She looks at the numbers. "You should be at 230 something, but your count is 32." Oh . . . .

Yes, I've been taking the iron pills since my visit last month. No, I haven't had blood in my stool. No, I haven't had blood in my urine. No, I haven't had a period. Yes, I've been tired; exhaustion is more like it. Yes, I've been having shortness of breath.

"We're going to have to start you on a 4-hour IV of iron today." I had been running away from that IV for months, but this time she was not taking no for answer. Nothing else was working. "You're going to feel better." I sighed. That would be nice.

She has decided to wait another month to do the PET and CT scans. I have been having scans every three months for the past year and a half. She thinks that we are at a point where I can be scanned every four months now. That is good to hear, because having scans is not fun either.

"How is the bone pain?" It's about the same, I tell her. She nods knowingly and asks me to hop up on the examination bed. She listens to my heart, feels the lymph nodes in both of my arm pits, and then places the stethoscope on my back and tells me to take deep breaths. First, below my left shoulder. Breathe. Then my lower left back. Breathe. Next, below my right shoulder. Breathe. Finally, down to my lower right back. Breathe.

It's now time to go into the treatment room with the other cancer patients. There are very few of us there today, and the nurses are able to take care of us relatively quickly. I always bring a good book to read, because I never know exactly how long I'll be there. The Zometa is first, and it takes 30 minutes to pump an IV bag into my body through my port. One of the nurses comes over to talk to me about the IV iron. Like everything else, it has all kinds of possible side effects. I will be given a test dose to make sure that I don't have any immediate reactions to it. After the consultation, I sign the consent form.

I then have to take 2 pain pills, because iron infusion may cause body aches. I am also given an IV of antibiotics. I sign another consent form that says I've been advised not to drive for at least six hours, because of possible drowsiness from the antibiotics. We both know that I will drive straight from the hospital to work, but I tell her I'll call someone to pick me up if I need to.

I am also given an IV of steroids. It's a good thing that I'm not an elite runner, winning races all over the country. I would fail the drug test at the end, lol.

All of this has taken up enough time to call my insurance company to approve the procedure. It's a go, and we start the test dose. The nurse inserts a large needle of the dark brown liquid into the tubing leading to the port in my chest. She slowly pushes the liquid through, watching me for any signs of distress from the iron. She asks how I am feeling and smiles sweetly. I pass the test with flying colors.

In between my hot flashes, I am cold to the point of shivering. I ask for a blanket, and a nurse hurries to the back to get one for me. The nurses in the treatment room are wonderful and will bend over backwards for you if they have to. My childhood dream was to become a nurse. I liked helping others and thought I would be good at it. But as I grew older, those dreams changed. Coming here and watching the nurses makes me wonder if I made the right career decision.

They start the 4-hour IV iron bag as I push the reclining chair back so that I can relax. Reading my book, I've dozed a few times, so I'll get a good nap in before it's all over. Ever so often a nurse comes by to see how I feel and if I am tolerating the infusion okay. I feel fine, but I'm getting sleepy. I would wake up when someone's IV timer went off, letting the nurses know that the patient's IV bag needed to be changed. Or it may be the patient's last IV bag, so they are allowed to leave. I would look around the room, notice that certain patients had finished and were gone and other patients had taken a seat to begin their treatments. I would then doze off again. The 4 hours seemed to pass by quickly.

The last timer I heard go off was mine. A nurse came over, removed the bag, flushed my port, and removed the needle and tubing from my port. She placed a band-aid over the pin-point hole and wished me a good day. I proceeded to the check-out desk to arrange for next month's treatment. There was only a mid-day appointment available. It would be busy here that time of day, but I would have to take it. There were no other choices.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made it through another treatment. I was headed to work to finish out my day. As I passed the front desk, the lady that checks me in every month says good-bye. I wished her a good day, and it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't even know her name.

"You're going to feel better," my oncologist had said. Yes, that would be nice.

Monday, June 8, 2009

DNF at the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile - 6/6/09

I had been feeling uncomfortable about the KM100 all week. I had read past race reports about how difficult the course is with all of the hills. They weren't long, just numerous. And last year the race experienced horrible weather with thunderstorms and flooding along the course. I kept a watch on for the area, and the prediction for the weekend never changed - rain and temperatures in the 50s.

I felt undertrained and tired and thought about just not going. I was driving and sleeping in the car, so I would only lose the race entry fee if I decided to stay home. But my mind would not finalize the thought. I was headed to La Grange, WI, and I was going to do my best and have fun in the process.

The drive would take about 9-10 hours, depending on how bad the traffic was going through Chicago. I got a late start, trying to get several things done that probably could have waited, and unexpectantly helping out a friend in need that took an additional couple of hours. At 2:00 p.m. and with a worsening headache, I was finally on the road heading north. When I hit the highway, I realized that I had forgotten my pillow and blanket. It would be a cool night in the car, but I was not turning back.

Leaving this late, I thought the drive through Chicago would be better at 10:00 p.m. than 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. How wrong I was! I love the city, but I hate driving through it. It's a nightmare. Creeping along, it was an hour and a half to get from one side of Chicago to the next. This had slowly turned into an 11 hour drive. My headache was now about as bad as it could get.

I arrived at the Kettle Moraine State Forest, parked in the parking lot of the start/finish area, used the porta potty, put some more clothes on to stay warm through the night, and climbed into the back seat of the rental car. I was asleep in no time.

Around 2:00 a.m., a bright light flashed inside the car. Not really knowing how long I had been asleep, I just assumed that the volunteers had started setting up for the race. My mind began to wander. If the volunteers were setting up for the race, then I had overslept. I suddenly sat up and was startled to see, not a race volunteer, but a park ranger standing beside the car, shining that bright light into my face. Darn it! I really didn't want to have this conversation.

Yes, I know that the park is closed. I'm running the 100 miler that starts here in the morning. I just drove up from TN and with it being so late, I didn't want to get a hotel. I just wanted to get a few hours of sleep before the start, since I will be up all night for the race. No, I don't have a parking sticker. I was told we would get one at race check-in at 5:00 a.m. Yes, I have identification. No, I'm the only person in the car.

He went back to his car with my driver's license, while I sat there, head back with eyes closed and huddled under a jacket. I haven't murdered anyone in a few years now, so what was taking him so long, lol?

Yes, this is a rental car. Do you need to see the rental agreement? Yes, I understand that I can't stay here. Yes, I know where the General Store is on Highway 12.

I had just been nicely kicked out of the park and told to go sleep at the General Store 2 miles down the road, lol. But, of course, I was now wide awake. At least the headache was gone. I tossed and turned the remaining 2 hours, finally getting up to prepare for the race. For a small town, the traffic along Highway 12 was busy the whole time, and just as I would doze off, a car or truck would come barrelling down the road. Tired, tired, tired.

I never fuss over drop bags, packing them lightly, and using as few drop bag locations as possible. This time I overpacked two drop bags, completely out of character for me. The course is two out-n-back sections. The first one is 62 miles, and therefore, there's also a 100K race going on at the same time as the 100 miler. The second out-n-back is 38 miles, and you guessed it; there is a night "fun run" on that portion of the course as well. I would have a drop bag at the Emma Carlin Aid Station (miles 15.5 and 47.3) on the first portion of the course and the Hwy 12 Aid Station (miles 77.1 and 85.9) on the second portion of the course.

I arrived back at the park a few minutes after 5:00 a.m., used the porta potty, and picked up my race packet (including my parking sicker, lol) and my chip. I was bitten twice by mosquitoes in that short period of time, so I covered my legs in bug spray, before placing my drop bags in the respective areas to be taken to the aid stations by the volunteers.

I talked to Norm (IL) for a little while on my way back to the car to stay warm. It was cold and starting out in shorts was probably not the best decision, but I wasn't changing clothes at this point. Norm and his wife, Joyce, were crewing for their fast-as-lightning daughter, Kathleen. I asked Norm if he would also be doing some pacing for her. He laughed and said he couldn't keep up with her even at her slowest pace. I checked the results, and Kathleen ran a sub-24 hour 100 miler. I told you she was fast!

At 5:40 a.m., the race director gave a very short race briefing. If he said anything critical, I missed it, lol. I was totally zoned out, looking around at all of the runners. Something did not feel right. It was more than being tired. I've stood at the start line of many races half asleep and didn't feel the dread that I was feeling this morning. The vibe was definitely off for some reason.

After the race briefing, I got back into the car and turned on the heat. I had about 10 minutes to warm up before we started. As I walked back to the start line, Lynnor (TX) and Sherry (AL) came up to me and gave me much needed hugs. They had been looking for me and wondering how hard could it be to find the only black woman at the race. I laughed, releasing some of the nervous tension that was building. Relax . . . this is going to be fun.

As we were taking off at 6:00 a.m., I got another hug from Rich (IL) and waved to David (IN). I watched all four of them running strong and leaving me behind. I was in last place by the end of mile 1. By the end of mile 2, I could not see any runners ahead of me. It was lonely and quiet in the forest, and I was surrounded by nothing but beauty.

We started on the nordic ski trails - double track and rolling hills. We topped out in open meadows before going through pine needle soft trails, and then single track with very few rocks and roots. This was wonderful running. I was right on a 4 miles per hour pace, exactly where I wanted to be. The next four miles were just as even-paced. And then out of no where, I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I started walking more than running, and my energy level took a quick dive. I couldn't even move well on the flat sections. My breathing was really labored on some of the climbs, and my hot flashes were coming like clockwork, every half-hour. Focus, girl. You can do this!

It wasn't until later, after the damage had been done, that I realized that my biggest problem was probably not eating enough. I had been drinking only water. The alternative was HEED, and the thought of drinking it made me want to heave, lol. And I wanted to wait until later in the evening to start drinking caffeine. The issue was that I didn't feel like eating. I forced a couple of gels, a few olives, and a few cheese cubes, but I didn't really want that either.

In the past few weeks, I had been trying to eat less in an effort to lose some weight, and I think my body was just confused. First I tell it not to eat, and then I tell it to eat. Granted, since I started this "diet", I've only lost a pound, but I think the habit of eating like I had in the past was fading away, so I just didn't feel hungry.

By the 23 mile aid station, I was dragging. It had started raining and because I wasn't moving very fast, I got really cold. I had dropped off my long-sleeve dry release shirt at the 15.5 mile aid station, and being in shorts, everything seemed to be exposed. My hands were cold and wet and were starting to feel numb. The first cut-off was at the turn-around point, the 31 mile aid station, at 3:15 p.m. I could make it, but I had to get moving fairly fast.

As I stood under the aid station tent, contemplating whether I should drop out, I asked the volunteers if they had an extra garbage bag. They did. So a race volunteer helped me to create a make-shift jacket with it. I drank a cup of Mountain Dew. It was delicious going down, so I had another cup. They had cheese sandwiches cut into fours, so I had three of those, more olives, and a cookie. I was finally hungry, and everything was going down well. Forget dropping out; they would have to pull me at the 31 mile turn-around point.

The next 3 miles were wonderful. I was even running up some of the hills and offering encouragement ("good job", "nice work", and "stay strong") to the runners coming back towards me. My legs felt strong again, my hands were warming up, and the rain was slacking off. I could make the cut-off if I just kept this up.

Or not. I came into the aid station at 26.5 miles, and as I grabbed another cup of Mountain Dew, I was told that I was over cut-off. I thought the cut-off was at the 31 mile aid station. No, all of the aid stations have cut-offs. I didn't know. What time is the cut-off here? 12:45 p.m. It was now 2:10 p.m. Oh, no . . . .

A race volunteer told me that I would have to officially drop out at the 31 mile aid station. I had two choices. I could run the next 5 miles to that aid station, or take a back trail for 200 yards to get to that same aid station. I looked at my watch. Could I run 5 miles in an hour, and actually make the cut-off at the turn-around? I had not run that pace even on the easy sections at the start of the race. No, the cut-off at the turn-around was 2:45 p.m., not 3:15 p.m. as I had thought. What?! Five miles in 30 minutes was definitely impossible.

Dennis, who was crewing for his wife, walked with me via the back trail to the turn-around point. A race volunteer took my chip. Lynnor and David were preparing to leave the aid station, still looking strong, and 5 miles ahead of me. I thanked the volunteers and told them that I loved the course and would definitely be back. When, I wondered, was the question.

Since Dennis had another 2 hours to wait before he would meet his wife along the course, he offered to drive me to the Emma Carlin Aid Station to pick up one of my drop bags, and then he dropped me off at the start/finish area and told me how to get to my second drop bag along Hwy 12. I thanked him for his help and then changed into dry clothes in the porta potty, before heading out to retrieve my other drop bag. It would be a long drive home.

There. I've successfully learned how to DNF with some darn dignity. My third expensive a$$ training run for the year was now complete. I would have been just fine, if only I could have stopped crying, screaming, and trembling from the sheer madness of it all while driving down Hwy 12 to get my drop bag.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Run Under the Stars 10-Hour - 5/30/09

"You're going to love RUTS!" That's what one of my running buddies, Lauri (PA), told me in an e-mail a few weeks ago. And she was absolutely right! I had avoided doing this race for a while, because I could not imagine running around a half-mile loop, during the night, for 10 hours. Over the last couple of years, however, I have been doing a lot of timed events. Most of them were 12/24 hours on trails, with the smallest loop of any of the events being 5K. Due to my slower than slow pace, I have grown to love and appreciate timed events, so it was time to give RUTS a try.

Steve, the race director, is one of my favorite race directors. He and his volunteers do a great job at the Land Between the Lakes Trail Runs, and RUTS was executed just as well. We started at 8:00 p.m., just as the sun was retiring for the night and the temperature was becoming bearable. It was a beautiful night - no rain, a little humidity, a slight breeze, a crescent moon, and definitely, a few stars. It's a chip-timed event, and the familiar "beep" as you crossed the mat after each half-mile loop became a confidence builder. The horse track we ran on was banked on the edges, but of course, everyone ran the loop at the smallest circumference, where it was completely flat. The surface was finely crushed gravel, very smooth, except for the occasional horseshoe print embedded in the dirt surface. With all of the relay and solo runners traversing the loop over and over, I think we created a smooth-as-glass surface by 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Since the track was oval-shaped, we switched direction every 2 hours to lessen the stress on either side of the body from leaning into the curved portions of the loop.

Next to the timing table was the aid station, well-stocked with everything we needed. To cut down on the number of paper cups used, Steve had provided everybody a water bottle, labeled with each runner's name and bib number. The bottles were laid out on the table in numerical order, and as each runner approached the table for fluids, the volunteers could easily access the correct bottle. The volunteers would refill it for you with gatorade, HEED, or water and place the bottle back in order to have it waiting for you the next time you needed it. This worked out very well and was a great idea. I appreciate Steve for displaying his environmental awareness.

About half way around and on the outside of the loop was a small building that had men and women restroom facilities. It was nice to have flush toilets, running water, and soap, instead of porta potties, or in the case of trail runs, bushes with heavy foliage. The course was also well-lit during the night. There's an inner grassy circle in which a lot of runners parked their cars, set up tents and chairs, and had their own special food, fluids, and clothing easily accessible.

Being in Paducah, KY, a bunch of my southeast running buddies were present. Kendel (GA) was there without her hubby, Walt. Unfortunately, Walt had to attend a funeral, so Kendel was looping alone. Because she had to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight, she was running quickly to get her miles in, lapping me several times in the process.

Bill (TN) was blazing the course as well. He threatened to get a piece of chalk and mark off on my butt every time he passed me, lol. I told him that sounded like fun. Some time during the night when I had decided that I wasn't running another step and then proceeded to walk loop after loop for the remainder of the night, Bill reminded me that the race was called "Run Under the Stars" and not "Walk Under the Stars." Indeed, lol! It was all in good fun, and I enjoyed the cattle prodding from Bill.

Phil (AL) was also there, and we walked a lot of loops together after he started having some stomach issues. I was glad to have the company, and on a normal basis, I would not have had the opportunity to spend time with Phil because he's a much faster runner than me. At one point he brought up the one time that I finished ahead of him in a race. I couldn't believe that he remembered. At the 2007 Andrew Jackson Marathon, I steadily reeled Phil in, on my way to a PR of 4:20:02. As I passed him, he asked "What are you doing up here?" I wasn't sure either, but there I was, running well and feeling great. Since Phil remembered, I guess it wasn't a dream after all, lol.

Mike (TN) is another runner that I would not have an opportunity to spend time with during a race. He's a running machine, but he was taking it easy because he is going to the Chattooga River 50K this upcoming weekend and wanted to save something to run well there. That was a good decision. Chattooga River is one of the most difficult 50K's that I've run, but it is also one of the most beautiful trails I've seen. Mike walked several loops with Phil and me, talking about races that we've done and planned to do. I felt like a princess with my handsome knights walking with me during the night, racking up miles, 0.5 miles at a time.

Gary (TN), the race director for the Strolling Jim 40 Mile, Vol State, and the Barkley, was also there, walking several loops. He is a character, and the few times that I lapped him, we would engage in a little chit-chat. I told him early on how much I enjoyed the SJ40, that I would love to do Vol State, and that my nightmare is to be the first female to finish the Barkley 100 Mile, lol. Vol State is probably doable for me - 31 miles a day for 10 days in July on TN roads. However, in 23 years, only 8 men have finished the Barkley. Gary probably thinks I'm crazy or I'm just too stupid to realize how hard it is to finish the Barkley in 60 hours with 52,900 feet of climb and descent, no aid stations, and no trail markings. And he's probably correct, lol, but a girl can fantasize, right?

Steve racked up 20 miles, in addition to fulfilling his race director duties. He effortlessly lapped me, looking strong, happy, and offering encouragement to each runner he passed. I am in awe.

It always amazes me when someone tells me that they took a nap during a race. This is the case with Danny (KY). He had been lapping me consistently all night, and so, when I didn't see him for a while, I thought maybe he was just slowing down a little. Later, when he again started lapping me, he told me that he had laid down for an hour but probably only slept for 15 minutes. The break seemed to be working well for him, as he was still lapping me at a good clip. The one time I took a nap during a 24-hour race, I never returned to the course, sleeping the remaining time in the car. That's one mistake I hopefully will never repeat, lol.

At the start of the race, Kendel introduced me to my new running buddy, Carol (KY). She is one of the original 50 Staters, finishing in 1998, I believe. She is such a positive and fun person, and I jokingly accused her of being a flirt, after she convinced one of the young, cute, male volunteers to walk a lap with us toward the end of the race. I think Jared (KY) enjoyed that lap as much as we did, lol.

Stu (FL) is the race director for the Ancient Oaks 100 Mile that takes place in December. He invited me to come down and give it a try. I think I will. He is fast, lapping me several times during the night. Towards the end of the race, he walked a lap with Carol and me, telling us stories about the Barkley and his younger, and even faster, racing days. After his break, Stu again took off running. The sun was coming up, and Stu was still moving like we had just started.

Carol and I walked and talked, and walked and talked some more, until there was only about 7 minutes left on the clock. At that point, neither of us could complete a half-mile loop in less than 10 minutes, so we called it a night (or a morning, as the sun was wide awake, promising another beautiful day).

Afterwards, I stayed for the awards. The results are not posted yet, and I'm not sure what mileage all of my running buddies accomplished. I hope they all met their goals, or at least, feel as good about their mileage as I do about mine. I fell short of my "goal" of 41 (my age) miles, but I did get in 34.5 miles, coming away with a nice finisher's award and a hearty handshake of congratulations from Steve, just as if I was one of his top finishers.

I forget names all of the time, but I rarely forget a person's face. There was a runner that ran with Bill a few hours at the start of the race, but later, he took off alone on a mission. Again and again, I saw these beautiful legs lapping me, and it never occurred to me that I would personally know anyone that fast. I never saw him take a walk break, and his running was efficient, to say the least. Each movement and expenditure of energy had a specific purpose, to push his body forward. It was a wonderful sight.

During the awards, this runner was sitting in front of me. He was talking to another runner, and all of a sudden I realized who he was. We'll call him Faster Mike (TN) to distinguish him from Fast Mike, who walked with me during the night. When I called out his full name, he turned to me, and I was so embarrassed. I could not believe that I didn't realize who he was 10 hours ago. I apologized to him for my oversight. I felt terrible about it, and I hope he was not offended.

Thanks to Steve and my running buddies, I had a wonderful time. I can't put into words the fun I had running/walking 0.5 miles on a horse track for 10 hours at night. It's a different atmosphere, and to my surprise, I was never bored. I felt a slight bit of sadness when the last runner hit the timing mat, setting off the last "beep", right before a volunteer blew the horn at exactly 6:00 a.m., signifying the end of the race. It's humbling to see the faster runners lapping you again and again, but it's also encouraging because if you keep seeing them, that means that you're also still moving. In a race like this, putting one foot in front of the other is the key to success. There is no other secret to it.