Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The BTM: Race Recap

The Bellingham Trail Marathon : Race Recap

It was a defining life experience.

First off, I can’t thank my wonderful running partner Kyle enough. He treated the race as if it was a ‘fun run’ and acted as my pacer / coach / motivator / source of good conversation and laughs / trail medic / all around trail hero rather than run for time himself. If he had run it for time, instead of for me, I guarantee he would have been at least 2 hours faster overall.

Now, onto the recap J

We absolutely lucked out on the weather. The expectation going into it was low 40s and a 55% chance of rain. It didn't rain at all and the temperature proved to be just about right.

9 am: We set off at a good clip from Lake Padden and got into an early stride of ‘fast-hiking’ hills and springing back into run mode on the flats and downhills as they came upon us. When leaving Lake Padden we had a short road section under the I-5 overpass and hopping onto the Interurban Trail. This was a nice gentle section with a solid pace. Things didn't get hard until we started climbing up the Hemlock Trail. It’s wide, but it’s a drawn out climb and we hiked for an extended period here.

Next up, we were rewarded with some technical downhills that, while fun, turned out to be less of a reward for me. We knew I had trained inadequately headed into the race. Namely, not enough mileage logged on technical, uneven, single track. It was here that my lack of adequate preparation made itself known with sharp pain in the outside of my left knee. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) can be brought on by running downhill and/or running too many miles. I arguably did both Sunday. The pain is sharp and hits when you bend the knee, making it feel like something is quite wrong and it becomes instinctual to cut your gait in half, then walk, then limp in a funky side shuffle. Or at least that’s what I did. It had eased up a bit by the time we got into Aid #3 aka mile 15 aka the bottom of Chinscraper, the steepest ascent on the course.

We devoured some delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the aid station and I decided to try a silly idea of getting my calf compression sleeves from my pack and wearing them over the knee to treat via compression. Nope. Didn't work. Nice thought though. Distraction helped the situation for the next ¾ of a mile. Going up Chinscraper at such a steep angle created a nice warm burn in the hamstrings, keeping my mind off my knee. As it turns out Kyle does the best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation I've heard and had a whole “feel the burn” bit from Pumping Iron that was cracking me up making Chinscraper one of the highlights for sure. 

Once we reached the top though we had mostly descent to deal with for the next +/- 4 miles. Nature was absolutely gorgeous there on the Ridge Trail. Boulders and roots abounded in their stoic, steep, technical, beauty. Perhaps I appreciated them more because I wasn't able to pull off a full walk at that point. Kyle was great about psyching me up then and managed not to show the level at which he was concerned he’d have to eventually carry me out. I’m stubborn enough that I was bent on finishing on my own two feet regardless (for the sake of still earning a finisher’s medal), but we both knew if I wasn't able to start running again we wouldn't make the 8 hour cutoff. 

I began to notice that any little uphill felt great, like therapy for my knee, so I started carrying on about how nice it would be if the rest of the marathon was uphill. Certainly nothing I would normally beg for. The woods will humble you J Before the end of our descent I was, by some miracle, able to start running again. When I say “some miracle” I mean Kyle putting me through some stretches and trying three rounds of friction massage (that hurt like a ##@@$%!!, but helped) on the outside of my knee over about a 2 mile period. It’s also possible that the superhero powers emanating from my son’s water bottle that I borrowed for good luck on the course helped too ;)

With only about 6 miles to go we checked the clock, 2:59 pm. The thought of finishing sub 6 hours that had seemed so attainable 6-7 miles back was gone. Kyle reminded me that I was there to finish, I wasn’t there for a time. 

We had two more aid stations to hit and we ran most of that last bit at a very gentle 11-12 minute mile pace with a handful of short walk breaks when the outside of my knee flared up. When we hit the last aid station I had for some reason expected that there would be only 1 mile left. As it turned out there were 2, and that knocked me down mentally at that point. I was on empty.

The last mile and a half or so mirrors the finish of the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon that I’d run 3 weeks prior. There’s something about the layout that makes you feel like you are almost there when you’re not, about three times over. I hit the wall mentally.

Once more it was Kyle to the rescue. The first race he ran with me was the Skagit Flats Half Marathon back in September where he had also coached me in the last 2 miles on my form, breathing, and motivation. I think he channels his cross country coach from high school or something, because he’s very good at it. At Skagit he built me up so that we could pass 5-6 people right in the end. At Bellingham Trail he coached me to not fall apart and walk the finish after all we’d gotten through on the course. It worked – I did keep running.

To a degree I felt like I was outside my body watching us at that point. I remember him telling me not to think about what hurt, but to look out at the lake. It was beautiful and serene right then. I remember coming around the final twist where the finish line became visible. I saw the big red clock and it said 6:36:18 and I thought in my half there mind, “you can get in under 6:37. You have this.” I broke into a sprint at that point, not wise all considered, but I wanted it. Next thing I knew they were handing Kyle and I our finisher’s medals and we were getting plates of just out of the oven wood-fired pizza and big cups of steaming tomato soup to drink. In the end, I placed 130th out of 154 marathoners with a time of 6 hours 36 minutes and 39 seconds.

I want to do a 50k sometime next year, but first I’m going to make myself run at least two more marathons and I’m going to train properly for them. Go big or go home is who I am, sure, but sometimes I need to remember that my mind gets ahead of my body when ascertaining goal capability and that I’m going to render myself injured and couched if I don’t respect and correct that disconnect.

P.S. My first marathon - It was awesome!


Saturday, November 9, 2013



I've been walking around with the image of this gorgeous custom made finisher’s medal as my lock screen since registering nearly two months back for the beautiful Bellingham Trail Marathon.  Now that we are at less than T – 24 hours I CAN’T WAIT, but I've got some unexpected nerves too.

It seems that this morning is a good time to throw it out there that I have no idea what I am doing. However, my body seems to have gone into some sort of instinctual preparation process without recruiting my brain’s assistance. Last night I passed out on the couch sometime around  7 pm with The Lorax on Netflix and our dinner dishes still on the coffee table awakening just past 9 to my son and my cat watching me sleep.  So my son, who has a cold, got off to bed an hour late and I went right back to bed netting about 11 hours last night. I also ‘behaved’ with early (9-9:30ish is early in my book) bedtimes the few nights prior. Today I've decided my number one responsibility is to hydrate like crazy…quite the opposite of heading into a figure competition that’s for sure J

Beyond that, I have no clue what I am doing. I don’t know what to eat today. I think I will have Greek yogurt, oatmeal, and a banana for breakfast tomorrow though.  I don’t know what to do or not to do. I have general notions of each and Google can certainly give me masses of advice, but I haven’t searched. I’m excited to go to the expo later today and get my bib, shirt, beer glass, and swag bag. I need to go get some salt pills I think. I’m looking forward to making and ziplocking my new favorite run fuel aka Trader Joe’s Butternut Squash Triangoli. I’ll be packing them and a few Gu gels, but otherwise depending on the aid stations.

I expect to use up a couple hours today over-thinking, packing, rethinking, and repacking my pack.
My main debate is whether to carry more water or take out the bladder and bring only a bottle (that I can refill at aid stations) in order to bring extra clothes as the odds of rain are strong. Or, pack a drop bag, but I've never dealt with a drop bag before and don’t really have a clue how that all works either.

I’d like to wear my road shoes as my arch, IT band, and legs overall fare better in them for higher mileage, but with the expected slippery mud and elevation I’d best go with my trail shoes. I’d meant to make my first marathon an excuse and go acquire a 3rd pair of running shoes a few weeks back, but didn't get to it and it is now too late in the game for new shoes.

Likewise, I have two potential outfits, one I prefer as it is overall more comfy and the other that is arguably smarter in anticipation of rain and not freezing my ass off when I slow to hike the hills. I still don’t even know whether or not I’m going to wear calf compression sleeves.
This summer I felt dependent on them when they first ‘cured’ a tweaky ankle tendon thing I had going on, but I've been running without the last few weeks and it hasn't returned.

I should also note that the longest I've run to date is only 20.19 miles and that included some short walk stints when my arch freaked out (assumedly from said trail shoes above), and that it was pretty flat compared to tomorrow morning’s 5,000 feet of elevation gain, but it was in total crap wind and rain weather :) I’m getting faster on the short, my best 5 miler to date being an 8:21 average pace, but my goal tomorrow is to finish in a 14:00 or < average pace, or 6 hours and 11 minutes, due to the anticipated difficulty of the course, amount of hiking expected on hills, and the personal acknowledgement that I am not as adequately trained as would be ideal. When I ran 20 I didn't stop because my body was done I stopped because 20 was the goal that day. In hindsight I wish I had pushed on - I would feel more prepared today if I had.

However, I am as stubborn as they come so I can guarantee I will finish. It is my hope that this race proves to be my gateway to ultras, but something is stopping me from claiming that thought until after.  For now I’m an admirer of ultra races and ultra runners and the vibes of inspiration that can generally be found emanating from them. Maybe sometime next spring I will start off with a 50k and maybe late in the summer or early fall I will try my hand (well foot) at a 50 miler. Maybe.  First I have my first trail marathon, well first marathon of any variety, to run. Then, we’ll see J

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Running is Magical

Running is Magical
When I last blogged the farthest I had run without a walk break was 4.35 miles and my goal was 6 miles. Well apparently running is addictive J Since then I've run 6 races, instead of 6 miles.

The Chuckanut Footrace in July (7 miles) - A mostly flat point to point between two parks.

The Chuckanut Mountain 12k in July – a really neat straight up for the first half and back down the mountain for the second half race. Probably still my favorite race to date. This is a great thing as the same race director is also putting on my upcoming first marathon. 

The Cinderella Trail Half Marathon in August – a very challenging trail half in the hills of Northern California. Put on by Coastal Trail Runs.
The Skagit Flats Half Marathon in September -  a nice flat Boston Marathon Qualifier course.

The Bellingham Bay Half Marathon in September – a gorgeous course encompassing my favorite piece of waterfront.
The tech on the chip timing for this race was awesome. I was able to sign up beforehand and my split time at the halfway point as well as my finish time automatically and instantaneously posted to my Facebook wall while I was still on the course.

The Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon in October – a small local trail half put on for a good cause. Special treats included a fantastic race photographer and hot delicious locally made soup awaiting the fog chilled runners at the finish line.

My approach to running from the onset back in April has been “go big or go home.” With that first 3 mile run that meant starting my route with an intimidating 0.6 mile uphill. With my first half marathon that meant trail and elevation instead of flat and traditional.

I've been meaning to write a post entitled “Running is Magical” for months now, but with my most 
anticipated go big or go home moment (or more 
likely +/- 6 hours) aka The Bellingham Trail Marathon (the best of local single track trails, 4 major climbs, and 5,000 feet of elevation gain) coming up this weekend I figured I had better get on it as that race will be deserving of a post all its own.

When I started running staying motivated to not take any walk breaks was my mantra, but then I discovered trail running where everybody but the elite walk up the hills. Now I love both.

I've had a few changes since I last blogged, mainly getting divorced, again, shortly after that last post. For me though, that has made running magical. When you’re out in the woods, or better yet out in the rain, with your favorite music, or just the rhythm of pace and breathing, it creates a sieve of meditation from which all that ails you can simply drain away onto the forest path.

Beyond that, every added mile becomes a can do. If I can run this much farther I can overcome / get past / get over / figure out / conquer …… anything. Running is quite a handy thing to go do if anything, little or large, is weighing on you.

Besides that, all the trail runners I've met are inclusive, friendly, and warm in spirit.

Running - I can’t recommend it enough :)