Sunday, December 14, 2014

Warrior Creek Half Marathon Recap

This race is like a rollercoaster baby, baby. You want to ride it?

What a year! I’ve done more races since March of this year than I’ve done in the rest of my entire life combined, and I couldn’t be more happy or more proud. And what better way to bring my 2014 race year to a close than with the second running of the Warrior Creek Half Marathon, put on by the Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club?

The race itself was held in Boomer, North Carolina, a bucolic destination nestled in the High Country of Western North Carolina. The weather Gods smiled on us, this 13th day of December 2014, blessing all of the runners who showed up with sunny skies, warm temperatures (for December) and crisp, clean air. As I’ve surely mentioned before, trail runners are the best kind of runners -- laid back, supportive, fun, and humble -- and this race brought out the best that trail running has to offer.

As Latisha, Carrie, and I lined up at the start line, I felt energized and relaxed. I was here to have fun, burn off some calories, and experience my first race on a single-track mountain bike trail. I had set no expectations for myself or the trail, which I am learning is the best way to go about trail racing. You will manifest what you expect, so hoping for the best (but preparing for the worst) is key.

The first few miles of the race was a conga line of runners. I had not previously experienced this phenomenon, but it’s pretty cool when you can see 80+ runners at once following a serpentine route through sunrise-lit forest alongside a glinting, pristine lake.

The Warrior Creek Half Marathon is described as a “rolling” course, which I will not argue. However, if any of you out there are as sensitive to motion sickness as I am, I will raise the race director “rolling hills” to add “roller coaster-y!” The Warrior Creek Half is run on a MOUNTAIN BIKE COURSE, which means lots of quick ups and downs, plus sinuous back-and-forths. By mile 2.5 my motion sickness was in full swing. I could clearly visualize the fun a mountain biker would be having, but between watching the the feet of the woman in front of me, zig-zagging back and forth, and running up-down-up-down-up-down, my head and stomach were ready to revolt! In other words, “Like a licorice twist [this course is] gonna whip your ass.”

But reaching a new level of nerdiness by making myself motion sick running was not on my “to do” list for the day, so I took on the idea that the faster I ran, the better I would feel. And it worked to a large extent! After the first 5 miles or so, people stopped passing me and I started passing them. I picked one target at a time, picking them off, but politely saying “thank you!” each time I passed a runner.

By mile 11 I was hustling hard. I had tripped once and rolled both ankles, but over all I was still in good spirits. It's hard not to feel content when you're frolicking past a rock garden, winding past babbling water, and pounding past a person you never thought you were fast enough to catch up with. After falling somewhere between mile 12 and 13 though (my most graceful trail fall to date!) I was ready to be done, so I dropped the hammer and scooted to the finish line.

I LOVED that the finish chute was placed directly after runners popped out of the final curve in the woods. There was none of that, before you finish you must run a quarter of a mile through a parking lot stuff that can make many of us runners pretty grumpy. Also, the timing company had this awesome setup that I had never seen before where, upon finishing, you could type in your bib number on a touch screen and print out all of your stats receipt-style. Totally awesome!

Though my finish time was my slowest half marathon time ever, I feel that I did fantastic given the course, my tired legs (Crossfit kicked my ass this week!), and the two beautifully distracting blisters I rubbed into my feet by wearing the WRONG socks at the race. In fact, I feel I did better at this race with my slowest time ever than I did in at least two of my other half marathons where I made good time but at the time didn't make the effort to appreciate how awesome of a privilege it is to be able to run a race in the first place!

All in all, this was a fun time with amazing friends on a beautiful day, and I wouldn’t change a single part of the my experience….save my socks! To the race directors, all of the runners, and especially the race day volunteers, you are my heroes!

Happy Running!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Veni Vidi Vici Trail Race Recap

 *Warning! This is going to be a long post. I recommend reading it in stages (pun intended).*

The inaugural 2014 Veni Vidi Vici (VVV) mountain trail run (organized by Go Run Trails) was a 36 mile, 2 day stage race I ran on November 15th and 16th. It was a very intense journey through Pisgah National Forest that took me by cascading waterfalls, up and over mountains, and through mountain streams. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning...

Pre Race

“I love the fact that I’ll be getting two medals in one weekend!” -Me

VVV was slated to be my very first stage race and the furthest distance I’d have ever run in a two day time period. As a naturally anxious person, this should have sent me over the edge on my pre-race hypochondria, but a confluence of craziness at work and craziness at home didn’t leave me time to fret about who had touched the gas pump, bank pen, door handle, or elevator button before me. Anxious or not, I DID come down with a cold on the Wednesday before the race. This either means (A) my crazy pre-race hypochondriacal behaviors are 100% justified and I should continue them, or (B) I got a cold, but it wasn’t so bad and I got through it and it didn’t really affect my race so I should take it as a sign to chill out. The jury’s still out on which way I’ll go!

Packet pickup was held at Oskar Blues brewery on Friday, and Misty and I made the trip out to Brevard to pick up packets for ourselves and for Latisha. The plan was for Misty to run day one (20.5 miles), Latisha and I would run both days, and then Carrie would run day two (14.5 miles). I like plans, and this was a good one that made me feel confident going into the weekend. Stretched, foam rolled, fed, and in bed at the crack of 9:00p.m., I was ready to start a most epic weekend!

Day 1

“If someone ever tells you to ‘go hike the North Slope Connector,’ they’re basically telling you to go F-yourself.” -Me

4:59 a.m. [vibrate]...[beep!]
Misty: Good morning. U feeling ok? Think they will let me run tomorrow instead of today? I’ve been up most of the night with fever and vomiting.
Me: Oh my gosh, that’s terrible! I feel fine...Just the snot still. The race is so laid back I’m sure they would let you, but are you ok?
Misty: Still very nauseated. Fever broke around 3:30. I would almost try it but I don’t really think I could make it.
Katie: No! It would be crazy for you to go. Friends don’t let friends die take dumb risks like that. Stay home, take in fluids, relax, be warm.

Day one was off to a rocky start. Misty had been looking forward to this race, and in my vision of how Day 1 would go she played an immutable role. But health is the most important gift we can give ourselves and there will be plenty more races that Misty and I will run in the future. I let Latisha know it would just be the two of us for the day, and together we headed out to Cove Creek Campground where the race would start.

Latisha’s car read 18 degrees Fahrenheit as we wound our way down the road, past the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education before finally splashing our way up to the campground - yes, “splash,” because you have to ford a creek like a true pioneer to get to the start line.

We were greeted by smiling volunteers and the race directors, all thickly bundled in coats and mittens, stoking a roaring campfire and handing out coffee and breakfast goodies. Other runners began trickling in around us as Latisha and I did our final pre-run dance in her car: “Are you wearing your gloves? Should I wear one coat or two? Where did my inhaler go? I need more kleenex. I have to go potty again!

Before I knew it we were corralled to the start line to receive instructions - “The trails will be well marked each tenth of a mile or so with blue and white flags.” But it was hard to pay attention or hear through the nervous chatter of the runners in my immediate vicinity - “I wish I had pooped one more time.” “Too late now!” The fog horn sounded and we were off!

We took off as a herd, quickly exiting the main road and entering a single-track path alongside a rushing river. I followed behind Latisha, carefully picking my way around rocks and roots. My Altra Lone Peaks provided excellent stability, grip, and cushioning, even as we transitioned back to pavement again before turning onto a path covered in a deep bed of fall leaves. We began a gentle climb up the mountain (no idea which mountain) and runners spread out as those of us who are slower on uphills let others speed on by.

After the initial 5 miles of gentle climbing, miles 6 and 7 gave way to a series of straight up then straight down hills on a very narrow, very slick path. But by mile 8 we hit a section that was smooth sailing down a grassy gradual downhill. We took advantage of the break and flew past many of the runners who had passed us early on in the race on the first uphill section.

At mile 11.5 Latisha and I partook of some orange slices and pumpkin bread at the aid station, topped off our water bladders, then headed off along a very flat path through a campground. All the while I had it in my head that the second ascent of the course would be similar to the first, but as we approached mile 12 a runner passing by leaned in and said in an ominous tone, “prepare to climb.” I wondered, what do you call what we’ve been doing? but knew that -- ready or not -- I was about to find out.
At the lowest elevation point on day 1 around mile 12 we were at 2,000ft above sea level. For the next two miles Latisha and I scaled 1,200 feet (the height of the Empire State Building or Sears Tower) to the course’s peak elevation of 3,200ft. I think we were both glad we had no idea this was coming because I don’t think I would have believed I could do it had I not been forced to. My quads, calves, and lungs were on FIRE even though I was crawling along at a 30 min/mile pace! I picked up a walking stick just so I could use some arm muscle to heave myself up the mountainside like a legless zombie and give my quads a break. The path was so steep that we had to take a switch-back pattern up the mountain, zigging and zagging every ten or fifteen feet as we made our way up and up. Latisha, who had come into the race with a right foot injury, began to limp a little from all the extra strain. The two of us were very quiet over that period, diving into the deep recesses of our minds to dredge up the inner badass it took to keep going.

But finally, the climbing stopped. It seemed like the race should have ended there because we had spent such a Herculean effort making it to the top of that dang mountain, but we still had four miles to go. The good news was that most of the remaining mileage would be downhill. At first, the freedom of being back on double track and downhill lit a fire in Latisha and she took of for at least a mile, clocking an 8min/mile pace. I couldn’t keep up and told her to go on. Unfortunately, the pounding further aggravated her foot and I ended up catching back up with her when we had (what I thought was) two miles to go. After sticking together for a bit, I decided I needed to be done. With Latisha’s blessing I looked at my watch (19.5miles) and motored on.

Even though I knew logically that I was more than a mile away from the finish line when my watch read 19.5 miles, my heart was hoping I was wrong. But the final couple of miles of the race were a backtrack of the first few miles, and as my watch ticked off 20.5 miles, 21 miles, 21.5 miles, I became more and more desperate. I interrogated every runner I saw, asking them to estimate as precisely as they could the distance to the finish line (as though I didn’t know, having just run this path a few hours ago). FINALLY, at 21.75 miles, I rounded the corner into the campground and made my way to the finish chute. After 5 hours (even) I had completed the most challenging race course I have ever run in my life. Latisha bravely followed just a few minutes behind me, but I knew from the look on her face and from her gait that her foot had had it. We celebrated our accomplishment with a beer and some amazing veggie chili before driving back home.

The Night Between
“Of COURSE pizza is a healthy recovery meal. I got vegetables on it, didn’t I?”

Latisha made her final decision not to participate in the Day 2 race on Saturday evening. Instead, Deanna would use Latisha’s bib and run in her stead. Misty was still sick, so that meant it would be me, Carrie, and Deanna running on Sunday. Stiff, sore, snotty, and starving, I did what any rational person would do about dinner: I ordered delivery pizza. After eating, taking a hot shower, and using my Neti Pot, I stretched and rolled out my whole body while I watched The Walking Dead before I was off to bed. That’s it, nothing fancy.

Day 2

“My ass better resemble the sculpted curvature of a Roman goddess after this.” -Me
I woke up on Sunday feeling a little stiff, a touch sore, but mostly pretty good! My back didn’t hurt, which was the most important thing to me, and I made sure to carefully cover the blister I had gotten the day before on my foot, and KT Tape my (now) slightly cranky right knee. I packed up my gear and headed to Brevard to meet up with Carrie and Deanna. Somehow in the shuffle of getting into Deanna’s car (my VW Beetle couldn’t make the creek crossing to get into the campground) my GPS watch and phone fell out of my bag and got left behind in my car (oops!). Once we made it to the camp area we did the pre-race dance again - “I have to potty, but the line to the pit toilet is too long.” “Are you sure my tights aren’t see-through?” “I can’t feel my feet it’s so cold.” etc. After some last minute instructions from the race directors we all sidled up to the startline and were off at 8:30 on the nose.

I would describe most of Day 2 as mild. In the beginning Carrie and I ran together through sunlit fields, lush rhododendron groves, across log bridges, and beside bubbling waterfalls. To my surprise, my knee stopped hurting completely after about mile 6 and I never felt it again during the race or after. I was in such a good mood that when we finally did arrive at the inevitable mountain ascent, I felt ready for the challenge. I’m not sure my quads, hamstrings, and calves were ready, but as my good friends Nadine and Jessica always say, hills make your butt look I climbed.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to do another 1,200ft in 2 miles, but we did do about 1,000 ft over 3.25 miles, an appreciable feat. When I came upon a volunteer around mile 8 who assured me that I was done climbing and that it would be smooth sailing to the finish, I took him at his word and allowed myself to ‘push’ the rest of the way in.

By the time I was around mile 9 I was running by myself and had no idea how far I’d gone or how far I had to go since I didn’t have my GPS watch. I used this as a motivator to drive me forward to try and catch up with someone who did have a watch. It worked! I began picking off runners one at a time, asking each as I passed what mile mark we were at. I knew from the day before that there was a chance the trail would go long and that I wouldn’t get to stop at 14.5, but I was having fun and it wasn’t a big deal. I was tired, yes, but I could keep going.

As I rounded a corner after a creek crossing I heard dogs barking and knew it was the two pups waiting at the finish line to usher in racers. I popped out of the forest seconds later to the beautiful sight of the finish chute and the man holding what would be my second medal of the weekend. I can’t express how surreal it feels to complete something you never previously knew you were capable of. I wish I could distill and bottle that feeling, but since I can’t I’ll have to settle for recreating it through fantastic experiences like this one. Julius Cesar (also) famously said, “experience is the teacher of all things,” and the Veni Vidi Vici stage race is certainly an experience to be had!

Thank you to my girls (Misty, Latisha, Carrie, and Deanna) for being there for me, and thank you to all the other runners, volunteers, and especially the race directors for making this weekend such a great one!

See you on the trails!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Peak to Creek Marathon

Yesterday I ran the 2014 Peak to Creek Marathon, formerly known as the Ridge to Bridge Marathon. I signed up for this race a few months ago with the intention that it be my “comeback” distance race. I figured Peak to Creek was the optimal opportunity to test the waters and see how my back would react to so many hours of pounding because Peak to Creek is (1) primarily run on unpaved roads, (2) close to home, and (3) almost all downhill (2,800ft of elevation loss). To my mind this was a trifecta of good omens and I registered right away! I was further encouraged after I successfully ran The Scream! Half Marathon in July, which is essentially the middle chunk of the full marathon’s course.

Going in to the race I felt prepared. My back hasn’t really bothered me in a long time and all of my runs have been going great. I’ve been having some trouble with tendonitis in my left posterior tibial tendon, but it hurts more after I exercise or if i’ve been sitting for a long time than when I move (aka, I planned to ignore it all through the race and deal with the aftermath later). I had no time goals going into the race either. Mostly, I wanted to have fun and feel comfortable. Of course, races are more fun when you run them with a friend and one of my friends, Jeanine, planned to run at a 10min/mile pace. If I was feeling good, I hoped to keep up with her for as long as I could.

Starting Line
Joy. Nerves. Fanfare.
As I took stock of all the runners at the start line I noticed a few significant trends. There weren’t very many runners (I’d say 250 total), but pretty much everyone there looked like serious athletes. I also saw lots and lots of Boston gear. I only had to tune into a few conversations to confirm that the strategy of the day for a huge proportion of runners was to qualify for Boston. Apparently a downhill non-paved course is good for more than coming back from a back injury; it’s a good recipe for qualifying for Boston too! Almost without warning the crowd began surging forward (no countdown, no gun) and we were off!

Miles 1 to 5: In the Beginning
Bucolic. Surreal. Crisp.
Race day often doesn’t feel real to me. I’ve been waiting and waiting for it to come and when it finally arrives it’s difficult to switch over to the “it’s here!” mindset. For the first five miles Jeanine and I chatted and tried to soak in what was happening. As I took in the breathtaking views of fog burning off of the mountain tops, farmland vistas, and the purposeful gait of hundreds of runners moving towards a common goal I felt exhilarated and blessed. This was all greatly enhanced by the soundtrack I chose to be the epic background to my experience...the incomparable 2 Chainz.

Miles 6 to 10: I feel like I should see a fairy or unicorn or something
Panoramic. Breathtaking. Effortless.
I love when races have an out-and-back section that allows you to see the people at the very front of the pack. Peak to Creek offered a nice, long viewing of some of Western North Carolina’s best and fastest. This section also allowed Jeanine and I to witness a jolly Japanese man who was running Peak to Creek as his 675th (or some crazy number like that) marathon! As we passed by him on the out-and-back he held his camera up to us and said, “Say-ah cheese!” to which we happily obliged. Soon after, we turned off onto the road that would lead us on a solid downhill stretch for about eight miles. A logical race strategy would be to use the first eight miles of this race to warm up, run solidly but hold back just a tad on the downhill to save your quads, then tear it up for the last eleven miles of gently rolling hills. Race day excitement and adrenaline, however, overwhelm all logic and tell you to run like a zombie is chasing you!

Miles 11 to 15: And then there was downhill
Wonderland. Serpentine. Kaleidoscope.
Running downhill is waaaay fun! Especially if you are a slower runner like me. I never get to see splits like that on my GPS watch and I enjoyed every last tenth of a mile of it. My quads? Not so much. I tried to compensate by downing as much caffeine as I could handle. I always wear my hydration vest with a bladder full of water. I also usually carry an extra water bottle full of gatorade. This time I opted to fill my extra bottle with flat coke instead of gatorade and the strategy really paid off. I also opted for a Clif bar with caffeine in it as well as GUs with caffeine. Whenever my energy started to flagg the caffeine was like injecting a bit of NOS into my system.

Miles 16 to 20: Elevation loss doesn’t necessarily mean downhill
Cascades. Fishermen. Rock walls.
After running downhill for so long, having to run uphill (we’re talking teeny tiny, brief, almost nothing uphills) made me very, very grouchy. The sun had come out, lighting up the fall leaves into brilliant fiery colors and making the creek water sparkle like diamonds, but it also made me hot and even more cantankerous. I started cursing at rocks, out loud, just for being there. I also griped at every car that drove by and kicked up dust on the road. But anger is an emotion that is easier to harness into something useful than defeat, so I put my unfounded irrational energy to good use and pushed on.

Miles 21 to 25: I hate rocks, hills, sunshine, & camp fires, but most of all I hate trucks
Tunnel vision. Eye of the Tiger. Car dust.
I love 80% of races. For 80 percent of the race, no matter the distance,I feel great and am happy and enjoy myself. Then, I turn a corner, my mood bottoms out, and I swear I’ll never sign up for a race ever again. Telling myself I would only have two 5Ks left once I got to mile 20 sounded reasonable and doable when I was at mile 13, but at mile 22 I was telling myself I was an idiot, I was going to jump into the back of the next truck that passed by, and make the driver take me to the finish line so I could give the race director the finger. Keep in mind, NOTHING WAS WRONG. The course was still gorgeous, I didn't actually feel all that tired physically, I was keeping up a spectacular pace, and everyone I passed (especially the wonderful volunteers at the aid stations) were hospitable, friendly, happy, and helpful. I guess I just don’t react well to being mentally tired. I swear I’m polite and/or upbeat 99 percent of the time, but everyone’s entitled to some kind of rage and mine is “long distance runner’s rage.” Put that on a t-shirt!

Final Stretch: Oh, the humanity!
Cantankerous. Elation. Gratitude
When I passed the sign that said “Mile 25” a man was driving by. He leaned towards me out of his truck window and said, “That’s a good looking sign right there, right? Way to go!” He was so nice! But of course I was imagining where I wanted to shove that sign. Then, as I approached the finish area at Brown Mountain Beach Resort I looked down to see that they were already doing the awards ceremony! Those bastards! I started running faster.

As I careened around the corner towards the final stretch I was told I had to do a lap around the parking lot and couldn't take the nice, straight path to the finish chute. “Are you f*&k!3g kidding me?!” I yelled out loud to those very friendly and nice people. I hope they thought I was being funny. I begrudgingly took a left around the parking lot yelling “Move!” at anyone in my line of sight who put so much as a  pinky toe onto my race path. Spectators yelled “Way to go! Almost there! Looking good!” as I passed by. I responded by making the most murderous face I could manage and ignored them.

But then, there it was! The finish line! I threw myself across the timing pads and finished in a new PR time of 4:28. I did it! Months and months of work (well, fun) and I had reached my goal of completing another marathon pain free. I hobbled over to the side of the chute threatening to barf on anyone who didn’t get out of my way and laid myself out on the grass. In less than 3 minutes I was back to my normal, cheerful, ecstatic self and happily went to hang out with my friends and bask in the glory of the day. And don’t worry, I apologized to the people I cursed at.


Congratulations to everyone who ran the race this year, especially those of you who qualified for Boston or met a new personal goal. You are all great inspirations to me! And a special thanks and shout out to Jessica, the most awesome friend in the entire world, for making this day possible. 

Happy running!