Sunday, May 3, 2015

Nirvana Ultra Big Bear Race Report

It has been a long two years since my last ultra and I wanted that ultra drought to end with a challenging race that would give me a chance to visit the local mountains.  Thanks to the ultrarunning calendar, I saw a race that fit the bill, Nirvana Ultra Big Bear; I eyed since since finishing the Austin marathon and finally signed up a couple of weeks ago.  My training after the marathon was less than desired after pulling my hamstring doing yoga but I could not miss one of my last opportunities to race in Southern CA.

One of my major concerns about the race was the altitude; the race site indicated the course varied between 6500 and 8000 feet and I have not run at altitude in years and it kicked my butt and lungs when I did!  The course was billed as 10 mile loops and there were various distance options (10 mi, 50K, 50mi, 100K, 100mi).  I opted for the 50K and hoped that I could survive that distance without having asthma issues.  Since the race started at 6am, my husband and I drove up to the Lake Arrowhead area the day before; we drove to the race start so that we would be able to find it early race morning and then drove to Lake Arrowhead to check into our hotel and hangout in the village.  I opted for "carb loading" by doing some wine tasting in the hopes it would help me go to sleep early; I managed to fall asleep around midnight and got minimal sleep before the 4am wake up call.  When we arrived at the start/finish area, I picked up my bib and tried to figure out how many were running the same distance; it was a small race (65ish people across all distances) and I loved the low-key start (complete with pictures).  It was very cold but I thought that it would warm up quickly, so I did not wear my gloves.  I regretted that for the first half of the race!

When we started, I was slow going out and made sure I walked anything uphill but still found myself near the front of the pack.  The course was two small loops before we headed out for a longer loop.  I felt the altitude as the course undulated and I focused on running slowly and breathing and not falling on rocks.  I love the ultra vibe and enjoyed some chit chat with others around me for the first loop.  There were no long climbs but constant up and down and I knew that would take a toll on my legs and lungs.  I completed the first loop in about 1:52, faster than I intended.  After a couple of minutes of going the wrong way when heading out for the 2nd set of the loops, I found myself running in a groove and powered up the uphills.  I realized I had not eaten anything, drank more than a couple of small sips of water or taken any salt and worked to get myself on track nutrition-wise.   I tried to avoid passing people on the climbs since I was being careful on the technical downhill sections.  Around mile 15, I noticed I had been out there 3 hours and was on pace for a solid race time, faster than the 7 hours I projected.  As I finished the 2nd loop and hit mile 20 about 3:54 in the race, I sat down to clean out my shoes and told my husband I knew I was feeling the altitude and would probably take another 3 hours to finish the race.

The final loop was very challenging mentally.  I was alone for most of it, except when I would pass a person one lap behind.  I focused on breaking it into sections and trying to get calories in my body, which was increasingly tough; my fingers were swollen so I monitored my salt intake.   My headache and nausea, combined with challenges breathing and tired legs, left me with little in the tank.  I walked more than I did any other loop and entered the aid station around mile 17 feeling beat up.  I found out I was neck and neck with a guy for 1st place in the 50K and we were at the aid station at the same time; I listened to my body and  pushed my competitive nature aside and told the guy to go ahead of me. I expected having to tack on the small initial loop to make it 31 miles and wanted to save energy for that.  As I went back by the aid station before heading down to the finish, I stopped to grab more water since I was drinking it in large gulps.

I hit the finish line for the loop in 5:59 (2nd place overall) and asked the RD if I was to go back out for the extra mile; he said he decided not to have us tack on the mileage.  I was a little bummed since I was gunning for a 50K.  After sitting for a few minutes and getting more water, I asked my husband if he wanted to go hike that mile and half with me.  He agreed so I went back out for the additional mileage and  took in the beautiful scenery one final time.  I felt very nauseous post-race and opted to leave asap instead of hanging out or trying to eat anything.  I definitely felt the classic altitude sickness symptoms and was thankful I only did the 30 miler!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Austin Marathon Race Report- Hill Country is no joke!

The road back to long-distance running was long and filled with physical therapy exercises but the Austin Marathon proved that I can go the distance.  Over the past year, I fought back the urge to blog and post updates because I was unsure if my hip issue would sideline me again; I built a solid mileage base and took it week by week.  A few months ago, I attended the RRCA running coach certification course and decided to write a training plan.  I was having a great training cycle and saw my speed coming back until I hit the peak of training being during my Christmas trip to Memphis.  Over Christmas, I skipped a couple of longer runs to spend time with family, thinking I could make it up since my training plan had numerous long runs.  Then the flu knocked me out and I totally dropped my training plan in order to recover.  I was disappointed in how much fitness I lost but I knew the Austin Marathon was hilly so I chose courses for my longer mid-week run and weekend long-run that incorporated hills; I hoped for the best, even after my 20 miler left me lying on my living room floor with aching legs.

The trip to Austin was filled with seeing the city (aka. LOTS of time spent in the car and walking) and Saturday night I had low expectations for the race.  My hotel was at the start line and I enjoyed sleeping in before the 7am race start.  The weather forecast called for a high in the 70s with humid conditions giving way to rain—not ideal conditions but better than many of my warm, sunny runs.  The race start was well organized, which surprised me since there was one wave of marathoners and half-marathoners starting together.  My goal for the race was to finish feeling well enough to enjoy the remainder of the day and I projected to finish between 4 hours and 4 hours and thirty minutes; 4 hours was my “if all the stars align and the hills are not bad” goal.  I wore my Garmin but mentally focused on letting my legs guide my pace, not my watch. 

The first 3 miles were a straight shot down Congress and I got an immediate taste for the hills; we turned and ran back towards the Colorado River and I hit the 10K mark feeling good.  A sign along the way (Jeremiah…) gave me a huge boost.  The race advertised a flat section from miles 8-10 but I never felt that; it felt like a slight uphill that wore at my legs and, hitting mile 10, I wondered if I went out too fast but refused to check my watch since I ran by feel during training. 

One thing I was unable to do well in training was nutrition; in fact, I never ate during my long runs and only had a half of a Honey Stinger gel during a 14 miler.  I knew that would not work for the marathon and focused on getting in calories and salt.  It was very humid so I took a salt pill at mile 10 and I ate a Honey Stinger chew.  I ate two more over the next few miles because the hills continued and I recalled the hills were bad until mile 18.  At mile 13, I sipped on a gel and completed it over the following three miles.  The hills were wearing on me and I was shocked at how hilly the course was and I focused on letting my legs guide me and keeping my energy level up.  Unfortunately, my stomach starting hurting me and I could not try and stomach another gel.  Around mile 21, I had a chew and kept waiting for the advertised downhill to carry me through the last 5 miles.  The course was heating up (humid!), so I took advantage of the frequent and well manned water stations to get water to dump down my back.  

The latter miles were not very pretty but crowd support was decent until mile 24 and I smiled at the lone guy sitting with free beer.  I never felt the advertised downhill and miles 24-26 were tough physically and mentally; thankfully, I had my ipod with me in case I hit a mental wall.  Going through the University of Texas campus, I longed for more crowd support but turned to my ipod for an energy boost.  At mile 26, the crowd support picked up right as I saw the looming hill in front of me; as I topped it, I felt extremely dizzy and saw another hill in front of me.  My legs slowed and my mind told me to walk; I realized that I had not walked at all during the race and I could push it up the hill slowly. I hit the top and saw the 400 meters sign and cruised down the hill and around the corner.  Normally I can pick up the pace for a sprint to the finish but I let my legs overrule my mind and cruised down the final stretch.  I saw Alan smiling and cheering and I crossed the finish line ecstatic when I checked my watch and saw my time – 3:49! 

Tough course!!!

I was shaking and my quads felt trashed but the endorphin rush carried me the 10 block walk back to my hotel.  After a quick ice bath and session with the Stick, I was starving and wanted fruit and granola.  Alan picked a restaurant with great reviews and we decided to walk to avoid the traffic and loosen up my legs.  Almost two miles later, we arrived at the Counter CafĂ© and waited 30 minute for a table.  The walk and wait was worth it for a phenomenal brunch.  

We ubered it back to the hotel and I summoned the energy to go for a walk later for dinner, drinks and live music.  Austin’s downtown is one of the best I’ve visited and I was happy that my legs, despite being sore, felt good enough for me to go out on the town.

The marathon was very well-organized with fantastic aid stations and good crowd support; the course was not always very scenic as it meandered through commercial areas and neighborhoods but it was a good road course.  Though crowd support was limited during the final miles and I wish that there were more students out cheering during mile 25, I was grateful for the ones out there.  Crowd support at mile 26 until the finish line was fantastic for a small marathon since many of the half marathoners were long done.  I would definitely recommend this race for anyone looking for a moderate size race (15,000 half and full marathoners combined) but hill training is a necessity.  

Marathon stats:

Overall Place:529Chip Time:3:49:08.36Pace:8:45/M
5K Time Rank:9365K Time Time:27:46.715K Time Pace:8:54/M
10MI Time Rank:85110MI Time Time:1:27:15.1810MI Time Pace:8:44/M
13.1MI Time Rank:77413.1MI Time Time:1:53:17.2413.1MI Time Pace:8:39/M
18MI Time Rank:65118MI Time Time:2:36:28.2218MI Time Pace:8:42/M
20MI Time Rank:60820MI Time Time:2:53:47.8820MI Time Pace:8:41/M
23.1MI Time Rank:55123.1MI Time Time:3:21:20.3923.1MI Time Pace:8:43/M
26.2MI Time Rank:52926.2MI Time Time:3:49:08.3626.2MI Time Pace:8:45/M

I'm recovering well and eyeing my next race!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Playing it safe

One thing I've learned about being sidelined with injuries for too long is that listening to my body is more important than sticking to a training plan.  Last weekend I planned on doing an 18 miler but my body was tired and I decided sleep and active rest was more important.  The past few weeks I've been playing in the pool and learning how to swim (with my face in water).  Time goes by quickly in the pool, especially since it's been scorching hot, and many days I've been running and swimming; it clicked that the pool was a better workout than I realized and my body needed some rest.  I ended last week with 30 miles and planned on jumping back into upping my long run mileage this week.  But that did not go as planned and I ended up playing it safe.

After my mid week 9 miler, my ITB flared up and served as a reminder of the importance of getting cozy with my foam roller daily and not skipping my physical therapy strength exercises.  I still planned on doing the 18 miler this weekend but the heat and realization that I had to see how my ITB held up before barreling ahead with my training plan squashed that.  Instead, today I slept in a little bit until 6:30am and then left with a goal of 10 miles; my ITB felt okay so I tacked on additional miles and ended the run at 14 miles.  While it was not according to plan, it was playing it safe and listening to my body.  Maybe I am learning something from all my injuries....

This upcoming week calls for more time in the pool, partly to survive the 100 degree temps expected and partly to continue working on improving my swim stroke, and listening to my body during each run.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Base building time

One mistake I've made numerous times since I started running is upping mileage and/or making too many changes in terrain/mileage too fast.  This year, I've been careful to build a base before increasing mileage and I am trying to slowly increase my total weekly mileage.  For a few months, I allowed my work days to be so long and draining that I ran few miles during the week and the crammed in the majority of my miles on the weekend; thought that was not optimal, it that allowed me to get used to running longer distances on legs tired from running the day before.

I use dailymile for tracking my runs and looking at my weekly totals has been useful in making sure I am not doing too much, too soon.  March, April, and May, I focused on building a mileage base and increasing that to 20 miles per week; at the same time, I made my physical therapy exercises a key component of each day and gradually grew accustomed to running in different shoes.  Before my last PT bout, I had been told I needed orthotics and shoes with some pronation control; in talking with more running-focused clinicians, I learned that those two items actually make my running gait worse and that I should be in neutral shoes with a minimal heel-toe drop.

Now that I have established a solid running base, I am trying to keep my weekly mileage increase close to 10% per week and am including cut back weeks. Two weeks ago, I hit 35 miles per week and did a cut back week last week.  This week, I am targeting 39-40 miles and will use this week as a major test for whether a winter road marathon is feasible.  I am also incorporating a little swimming into each week knowing that cross-training is important and I should take advantage of the warm temps and apartment pool.

Twelve months ago I could not walk without my hip buckling and each mile is now more cherished than before.  I was thrilled to spend this Labor Day running!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Running trails in Portland

After a long hiatus from blogging, I am ready to chronicle my running again.  After several months of physical therapy and puzzling an orthopedic doctor, a staff of physical therapists, and an A.R.T. guru who works with ultra running elite in the world, my body is better than before but the lingering issues remain.  I am optimistic that I'll be able to continue my gradual, careful increase in mileage and will settle for whatever pace I can run without it aggravating my hip.  My increase in mileage coincided with a work trip to Portland a couple weeks ago; I decided to stay an extra day to check out Forest Park.  OH.MY.WORD.  I found trail running paradise for me!

Forest Park is a massive urban park with seemingly endless trails, including Wildwood trail that runs through the park.  Despite being exhausted from traveling the day before and having to be back at my hotel in time for a huge work conference call, I awoke to be at the park at 6am.  I did research in advance and decided to park in a place that seemed like an easy to locate park entrance not far from my hotel.  The entrance at Macleary park had minimal parking but running early on a weekday has its advantages - open parking spots!  There was construction that threw me off as to where the trailhead was but I recalled reading that there was a steel sculpture and I ran on the under construction bridge, spotted it and then saw the forest paradise beyond that.

My initial plan was for 15 miles but, after 2 miles, I realized I was running slower than normal due to the constant up/down of the trail; I calculated how much time I could spend running and realized I would have to cut my run down to 13ish miles.  To play it safe, I did an out and back, instead of exploring any of the offshoot trails, and was sad I had to turn around.  I am not accustomed to running on soft dirt trails under a tree canopy and I wished I had more time in Portland to explore more of the park.  The run kicked my butt in a good way and made the cost of staying there an extra day well worth it.

My last long run of 16 miles caused my hip to ache and I longed for Forest Park; if only I could go to Portland every week or weekend for my long runs....the drought in California causes everything to look brown, the extremely low humidity and the lack of shade of any route near my apartment makes getting motivated for long runs hard but I'm determined to see if the months of PT made enough of a difference.  Fingers crossed!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tighten those glutes!

Welcome back blogging world!  It has been a couple of years since I have blogged consistently due in part to a lack of consistent running and mostly due to my crazy work schedule.  When I left teaching, I thought that my new job would allow me to focus more on myself but it has been the opposite.  60 plus hour work weeks have made running low on the priority list; I enjoy sleep too much!

When I tried to get back into running consistently (at least on the weekends), my nagging injuries flared up.  I had a blast at the 2013 Leona Divide 50K since I ran smarter and faster than my out of shape self anticipated.  After that, my hip issue eventually sidelined me; in July, I could not run more than 0.1 mile before my hip/leg buckled.  I finally broke down and got x-rays and the MRI to rule out major issues; thankfully, I "only" have internal and external snapping hip syndrome.  It's causes pain and very loud popping sounds that make my husband jump when I do squats or stand up.  (eeek)  I took time off and gradually built back up mileage, while doing the few exercises my chiro gave me.  A couple months ago, I got up to doing 20+ miles and hoped I would be able to do Leona Divide this year.  But then the nagging hip flexor pain got worse and I realized I'm sick of being injured; it is time to get to the bottom of this, fix it and get me back out there running pain free.

My awesome ortho sent me to Rausch Physical Therapy last week for a running gait analysis and PT. Today I had the gait analysis and, while it was weird,  hearing two PTs talk about me while I ran on the treadmill, it was awesome hearing what is making me hurts so much.    Basically, my form sucks; I have zero glute activation (in fact, he used the term flaccid to describe my glutes - lol), many other weak muscles.  I am happy to have a PT plan to attack the super tight hip flexors, strengthen and activate my glutes, and work on the other muscular issues that cause severe supination.  Though I typically suck at adhering to plans, I am committed to getting stronger and coming back to running pain free.  Until then, I have to keep my running at a minimum but get to keep running.  Here's to making my backside strong!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Catching up

I took a long hiatus from blogging this year; work occupied more of my week than normal and running has been erratic.  Since my last post, I ran only two races - Leona Divide 50K and Freedom Run at the Ranch 10k.  Yes, that is right - a whopping two races.  Both went well and I loved toeing the line and pushing myself.  That is why I love running and missed it dearly this year; it propels me past physical limits and places me in the midst of incredible people.  

I am focused on getting to the bottom of the hip, knee issue that has plagued me for years and sidelined me in July.  I have dealt with my left leg collapsing and the feeling of dragging my leg for seemingly forever but it normally kicked in late into runs; it progressed to where that happened less than 400 meters into a run.  I and my ART guru (Dr. Scott Neubauer) decided that the worsening symptoms warranted x-rays and a MRI, which thankfully ruled out worst case scenarios.  When my hip collapsed the moment I tried to jog through an airport terminal trying to catch my connection, I decided I had to stop running, period.  I kept stretching and did short walks (10 minutes) and hoped to maintain my sanity while I waited for appointment with an orthopedic doctor.  The official diagnosis is internal and external snapping hip syndrome; basically my IT band (external) is tight and snapping over bone and my iliopsoas (internal) is snapping over bone.  I am doing tons of stretching and strengthening - some prescribed by Dr.Scott and some I realized I need to do.  The back injuries I sustained many years ago may have contributed to all of this and I am stretching and getting ART on my neck and back to break up scar tissue.

After zero running for six weeks, I started back with jogging on soft grass (primarily in Vibrams).  I am being cautious and building back up slowly.  Today was my longest run in almost four months - 65 minutes.  I am stoked my husband and I can continue of tradition of running the Oceanside Turkey Trot.  I will be thankful for every mile!