Archive | September, 2015

Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 3: The Aftermath

27 Sep

For the pre-race prep report, see here.

For the full race report, see here.

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since I ran my first 50 mile race.  At this time last weekend, I was hobbling around the house eating ibuprofen like candy…and today I am itching to go for a run (but being smart and going for a hike instead).  In the aftermath of the race, some thoughts about my personal training/race:

  1. My training was pretty spot on.  I suppose I could’ve practiced more steep, long climbing down at Hi-Tor or on the ski slopes at some area ski resorts.  The problem is those places are FAR from us.  So I never really did.  I instead opted to just climb here as much as I could, which meant finding and running hill repeats during long runs at Durand (which is not, as people like to claim, flat), doing multiple loops of WTF (with the ski slope section forwards AND backwards for good measure) and a double SPF stint (I still hated it the second time around).  None of this was even close to the elevation change I faced at Virgil.  But I was fine, and I think the stuff I did prepared me very well for the majority of the course (minus the alpine section).  It may have helped me do better on some of the climbs to have practiced more steep stuff.  Otherwise, I put in the miles and I did a LOT of climbing, and it paid off all day Saturday.  I doubted the training because I didn’t know what to expect since I’d never gone 50 before…now I know that when I do another one, I would stick to the same type of training plan.


2.  Ultimately, Saturday was a day of near-perfect race-day execution.  A few different times, I started to get distracted by things, particularly people who I wanted to stop and chat with.  But it was never for long.  I was laser-focused on getting through each section in a certain amount of time.  If you were there and I came off as rude or brushed you off, I apologize (because looking back on certain interactions, I realize it may have been kind of rushed/rude).  The only 3 sections that I didn’t make my time goals were the three sections where I literally never thought about them–on the alpine loop (both times), I was just holding on for dear life, rather than being super focused on my time.  And on the second to last section, right after the alpine loop, I was so tired, I let my focus wander.  This is not a good excuse, and I am still a little upset with myself for not focusing better in this section and hammering it home.  Don’t get me wrong: I am insanely happy with how things rolled out.  But if I could pick one “mistake,” it would be this.

3. Thinking about the distance between each aid station kept me focused and kept me from thinking about how far I had gone or how much I “should” be hurting.  I didn’t even think about running farther than I’d ever run before until I was almost to mile 40!  That means I went almost 9 miles without thinking about it/realizing it.  Because at that point, I was thinking about how many miles I had to get to the next aid station.

4. When you’ve trained well, you learn to manage your pain…or you make it hurt less? I’m not sure which was the case for me, but I was surprised by how little “pain” I felt over the course of the 13 hours.  I had anticipated immense amounts of pain and stretches of disastrous dark thoughts to work through.  I didn’t experience much of this–when I got “lost” in section 2, I started to feel weak, physically and mentally.  I immediately quashed those thoughts by reminding myself of all the training I’d done and how there were going to be lows and I could dwell in them or just push through them, because I KNEW that better times would be just ahead.  There was also a point where I realized my back was really starting to hurt (my lower back always hurts in these long races, and my upper back where my pack sits was bothering me, too, this race, since it’s the farthest I’ve ever run with a pack on).  I somehow stopped really thinking about the back pain, though.  I was oddly cognizant of the pain, but not thinking about it or focused on it.  Other than that, I’d say the only really dark moments were in the alpine loop, and I’m not sure those were “dark” moments so much as just extreme annoyance that anyone would think this was an acceptable “run” course.  Reminding myself that people come to Virgil specifically for this signature torture, though, helped a bit.  I never really hurt any more than I did in a 50k.  I’m not saying it was all rainbows and butterflies out there–just that it felt like the hurt of the last few miles a 50k…but for about 20 extra miles. haha.

5.  I am not the same girl I was before.  I think that every race changes you, no matter the course.  For this race, my change comes in the form of my outlook on climbing.  I am not a fan of hills, and I am not a strong climber by any means. That was part of the challenge of Virgil–12k (10k +??) of climbing is no joke.  But I found this course, minus the alpine loop sections, to be completely manageable after my training, which just gives me more confidence in my ability to handle hills.  I felt in control, even at the end of the race, when climbing became a challenge because of fatigue and muscle soreness.  I was able to power-hike the ups and run the flats and downs very effectively.  I am proud of this.  I am proud of my hill work during training, and proud to say that I no longer shirk hill runs but rather look for things to climb to make myself stronger.  I’m still not great at it, and I’d still much rather be doing what I’m good at–running flat or down–but I will do the hills.  Because doing the work works.

6. I didn’t actually hurt all that badly overall either.  I was able to really crank out the downhills at the end of the race, and Saturday night I was sore/stiff when I first got up, but then I was fine.  Sunday morning, the same.  As the day went on Sunday, the DOMs started to set in.  Sunday night was the roughest patch–I hurt.  Badly.  I was taking 800 mg Ibuprofen every 4 hours and still barely able to move around.  After my first marathon, I was this sore.  I was miserable.  By Monday night, I felt better.  And although it was a bit miserable for a day or two, I was mostly just proud of the pain.  This hobble was full of swagger.

7. I am not invincible.  Leading up to the race, Eric encouraged me to take a personal day on Monday to recover.  I insisted I’d be fine.  I ended up sheepishly calling in Monday morning.  I hate calling in, and I amused myself by thinking about how if I’d called off because I drank too much this weekend, I’d have a problem, but since it’s only because I ran too much, I’m probably still ok.  Maybe???

8. As much as I’d have liked to go sub-13, I am crazy proud of my finishing time and the way I handled my first 50 on a super challenging course.  I was 6th female.  Of those 5 in front of me, only 1 (I think but I’m not positive actually that she hasn’t) has never completed a 50+ run.  One of them even did Eastern States!

9.  I really want to do another 50, but it just feels so selfish to me to take so much time training and then running, and have Eric following me around to crew.  I think about what I could do at a 50k if I really sunk my time and energy into a shorter race, and I am curious.  But I’m also curious what kind of times I could lay down on a flatter, reasonable 50 mile course. And CT50 is the most beautiful course in the universe. Also, looking at my times on different sections of the course, knowing what I know now, remembering some of the times I slowed down or hiked that maybe could’ve been run…I think a sub-13 finish was completely reasonable this year, which means in the future it would be too. I want to compete against myself, on this course, and on other courses.  I want to see how much faster I could be.  So we’ll see.

10. 100 miles is insane.  I still have no desire to attempt that distance.  Watching people whose bodies are completely shutting down, seeing them incoherent and completely reliant on pacers and aid station volunteers is a freaky thing. Knowing that sometimes, even though you put in the training, you still have to drop because your body says nope and forces you to quit…I don’t want any part of that. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind…but for now, there is no part of me that thinks 100 miles sounds anything other than batshit crazy.  [Telling people at work this thought, I was told, “uhhh 50 miles isn’t batshit crazy to you?!?!” So I know it’s all relative.]

11.  At the risk of sounding cocky, we do not know hills or climbing here in Rochester.  Hearing people talk about the hilliness of the new marathon course makes me chuckle.  Thinking about how Mendon used to be some un-conquerable demon in my head makes me die laughing.  I will likely not complain about “hills” here again…for at least 2 weeks (before I forget and go back to complaining again…have I mentioned that I really dislike climbing???)

12. I didn’t eat a ton on Saturday–some Fruit Roll Ups, a handful of candy corn, a half a salt potato, a sandwich baggie of potato chips.  I also used Tailwind (that shit is amazing) and had a couple small cups of flattened coke.  I didn’t really want anything post-race…my appetite came back sometime Monday night, when I woke up in the middle of the night to get a snack.  I spent the next 48 hours eating every 2 hours and still feeling hungry.  I hate the post-race un-rungries and the subsequent crazed-monster-gorge-fest.

13.  Crying is the new puking?  Prior to longer distance runs, I started puking after races.  I have no idea why.  It’s gross.  My new thing is apparently crying at long distance races.  At the start, at the finish, on the course when I realize how far I’ve gone or I see something particularly poignant…  I would rather cry than puke, so I guess I’m going to stick with the longer-distance races for a bit. 😉

14.  I had a genuinely good time on Saturday for probably 95% of the day.  A few people have said how great I looked or how much I was always smiling.  No sham there…I really was smiling and happy for most of the race.  I just kept thinking about how well I had trained and how it was all paying off, how the trail was so beautiful, the people I was meeting were so cool and experienced and just wealths of knowledge about races and trails and life…I was tired and sore, but having the absolute best time just out doing what I love to do.

SO what’s next?  Mendon 50k is in 5 weeks.  I took this whole week off from running, but I’m ready to ease back into it slowly this week.  That leaves me about 2-3 weeks of training time for Mendon, then a short taper.  Of course, this is all based on feel, and I have no intentions of pushing myself too hard, since the training I’ve done for Virgil should really suffice for Mendon…but I am pumped to see what I can do at Mendon now that I’ve seen “real” hills.

To everyone who emailed, PM-ed, texted, called, Facebook posted me about this race, THANK YOU!!! When things got tough out there, I could just think of everyone waiting to hear how it went and soldier on.  Your support means so much.  Having some of you actually there was amazing.  Getting texts mid-race was amazing.  ❤

And to Eric:  Wow.  I keep saying it because I don’t know if I can say it enough times.  Anything positive that happened last weekend was a result of not just my hard work, but yours too.  Thank you for supporting me, for believing in me, for helping me achieve my goals.  From the get-go, you’ve been the one saying “of course you can do that” when I said I didn’t know, you’ve been the one pushing me to be better, faster, go longer.  Bet ya didn’t think that asking me to run on the track way back when we first met would land us here, did you? haha. Without you, none of this would’ve happened.  I love you.

Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 2: The Race

20 Sep

For the Pre-Race Prep Report, see here.

Race morning arrived, we got to Hope Lake very early.  I used the bathroom, then used it again and again–the nervous pees before a race are the worst.  We sat on the tailgate and just watched the pre-race “stuff” going on.  We saw Laura and Co (doing the 100 mile relay), Mike (doing the 50) and Tim (doing the 100!).  Finally it was time to line up for the start.  Eric gave me a kiss, and I immediately lost it.  I was crying and I couldn’t stop.  He walked away to get some pictures of me at the start, and I had to walk away from the other runners to try to compose myself.  This happened to me at Buffalo Marathon, too, and I don’t get it.  There were a few other times yesterday that I got choked up during the race, but I never actually cried on the course.  I composed myself just in time to hear Ian yell the start and we were off!

pre-race, pre-tears

pre-race, pre-tears

Section 1

6.3 miles  +1250′ elevation/-1050′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:17

I was nervous for this section because, according to the elevation profile, the start was about 5 miles of almost constant climb–nothing steep, but just a gradual, steady climb.  Climbing is not my strong suit.  The cut off time for this section was 1:40, and at one point, I seriously wondered if I’d get cut off at the first aid station.

All that worry was for nothing, because I was fine.  The first mile was a gradual uphill on the paved path around Hope Lake.  It was cool to see the lights winding around, and people were very chatty.  There were apple trees, and an apple rolled across the path and someone almost tripped and we all had a good laugh at the possibility of injury in the first 50 feet of a 50-mile race.  We hit the trail and started to climb more–but it was mostly the conga line walk while everyone sorted out their placement in the group.  I had started pretty far back in the pack, so I started to pass people slowly, just listening to conversations around me about people’s race plans, previous race experiences, and the trail.  By about mile 2 or 3, things had broken up enough to settle into a decent rhythm.  The miles started ticking off, I turned off my head lamp a little before 7, and popped out of the woods to find Eric and Picasso waiting for me.

The other major goal for this race was to spend minimal time in aid stations.  Having volunteered and also having watched many friends complete ultras, so much time can be lost getting aid.  When you really NEED aid, that’s a good thing.  But when you’re just hanging out or eating, it’s not.  So we had practiced during so many of my training runs for switching out drinks, food, and getting back on the road quickly.  This aid station, I cruised in, we switched out both my vest water bottles (I also kept a regular Wegman’s plastic bottle in the back of my pack, but wasn’t using that yet).  I took two big swigs of Diet Dr Pepper and I was on my way in a minute.  Boom.

feelin crazy!

feelin crazy!

Section 2

7.1 miles  +1250′ elevation/-1950′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:29

I headed out of the aid station, past a plethora of men hanging out, getting food/drinks.  They left with me, and we all made our way up the trail, hiking quickly.  There was some conversation.  Mostly I just listened.  I was dialed in, focused on hiking quickly and efficiently.  I led the way, and when we got to a section that seemed runnable (still up, but so gradual), I took off, and they all followed.  The trail began to wind, then went down.  I am a fantastic downhill runner.  I never really gave much credit to this kind of statement (Eric has been saying it almost since day 1 of our running), but I heard it over and over again from the men running around me yesterday (there were not many women out there, so it was mostly just me and a bunch of guys all day).  I took off on a downhill and lost most of the guys.

Eventually, I was on my own.  I was moving well.  I was following the pink markings without problem.  All was well.  Until I couldn’t find any ribbons to follow.  I kept running, thinking I hadn’t given it enough time.  I ran for a quarter mile without seeing a ribbon.  I went up a little farther, still couldn’t find one.  I decided to back track to find my mistake.  I backtracked to the last flags I’d seen, where a guy was making his way down the trail.  I explained that I think I’d been lost, I must’ve missed the markings.  We continued together, and if I’d have just gone another 100 feet before turning around, I’d have seen the next marker.  I was pissed.  I’d lost some time on this mistake.  At this point, the guy told me that he’d run this race before, and in this section (the FLT), you could just follow the white markings on the trees, so there wouldn’t be as many course markings.  WTF.  I started to see people ahead of me and hear people behind me, so I kept moving.  We popped out of the woods onto a road.  The road curved, then it dipped down, down, down.  It went for almost a mile–I was flying.  I ran an 8:51 mile!  I passed by Mike, we exchanged encouraging words, and I kept moving.  At the bottom of the hill, we came to Gatherings and TenKate Crossing Aid Station.  Eric and I quickly traded out water bottles again, I left my garbage and grabbed a couple more Fruit Roll Ups and I was on my way in 2 minutes.  There was only one porta-potty on the course, and it was here.  I decided to stop and use it–good choice.  I peed (gladly–that meant my hydration was ok) and was on my way.

finding my fruit roll up stash

finding my fruit roll up stash

Section 3

6.6 miles  +2900′ elevation/-2200′

Estimated finish time: 2:00

Actual finish time: 2:10

I knew this next section was going to be murder–it’s the Alpine Loop which goes up and down the ski slopes at Greek Peak Ski Resort. I also knew I had banked some time in the previous 2 sections, AND that I had really not expected to stay on pace for a 13 hour finish past this point.  I decided to put my head down, grind it out, and just get through this section as quickly as possible.

Immediately past the aid station was a creek crossing.  I carefully picked my way across, trying to stay dry.  Right after the crossing, the trail began to climb.  Literally straight up.  I wanted to cry.  I kept going.  No time to wallow in pity.  I had shit to do.

The trail leveled for a quarter mile before it began to climb a black diamond slope.  Right away I was regretting not bringing my trekking poles–last minute I’d decided to leave ’em behind because I’d only practiced with them once and they were super annoying on the downhills.  But now, climbing, I regretted my choice.  A bunch of guys caught me, and we all commiserated about the climbing, then I jumped in line behind them.  When we got to the top, I was happy–til I saw that we were going to continue to climb.  Head down.  Grind it out.

We got to the top, then started a descent.  I managed to move a bit quicker and was feeling good–til we popped out of the woods and onto another slope.  It went up, although not terribly steep, but ridiculously long.  I passed some people, more people seemed to be passing me.  We finally came to a point where the trail curved ahead, and a guy I had been climbing with voiced what was in my head–finally this climb is done.  We turned the corner and…

Continued to climb, more steeply this time.  At the top, though, we looped around and began an access road descent.  Yay! Downhill!  By this point, on the exposed slopes, I’d gone through all the water in my front vest pockets.  At the bottom of the hill mountain, Ian had left an unmanned water stop.  I thankfully filled my bottles, realizing we were on our way to climbing the trail at our aid station from last year.  So straight up a ski slope.  At least, I reasoned, we’d go up a bump, then have the flat-ish section to recover before going up the next bump, repeat ad nauseam.  Except the course changed–so now we went up the slope NEXT to our aid station–the black diamond that literally went straight up.  It was a death march–a steady line of men (again…not many women…) and me.  Every 10-20 steps, I had to stop to catch my breath and wipe the sweat out of my face.  I cannot express the misery that this one climb induced.  There were people stopping and sitting down on the side of the mountain, it was that bad.  I didn’t sit.  I kept plugging.  Tim passed by me, looking like he was walking on flat ground.  He gave me some encouraging words, which made me feel slightly less murderous.  I finally made it to the top, and there was Ian.  We had some words.  Mine were, I think, filled with profanity.  I carried on with some guys who started talking with me.  We chatted as we ran along back downhill.  Then we climbed again.  Suddenly, as I was about to get frustrated with my perceived lack of progress, Brian and one of his kids appeared above me. Robot Brian, who just ran all 99 miles of Mighty Mosquito. We chatted briefly as I climbed quickly, knowing the TrailsRoc aid station must be just ahead.  I came in to cheers.  We traded out all of my water bottles (I’d gone through almost 46 ounces of water in this section!) and 4 minutes later, I was back out on the trail.

death marching

death marching

If hell exists, it is this Alpine Loop.  I felt slightly better when I heard from many race veterans that this new course was significantly more difficult than any previous years’ courses.  And I only had to do that section one more time, and it was more down than up going home.  I’d be fine.

Section 4

5 mile +800′ elevation/-1100′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:23

I ended up running a huge chunk of the beginning of this section with a guy who has taught high school English for 35 years, so we passed the time talking about the disturbing state of education and bonding over our mutual love for being in the classroom and our students.  We also talked about races we’d run and our training.  There were some steady downs and steady ups.  There were really weird “speed bumps” on the jeep road we were running on, which made no sense to me.  I was getting mighty sick of the stupid jeep road when we crossed a real road and headed into some really REALLY nice single track on our way down to the turn around.  The trail was nice and I started to see people on their way back.  There were back and forths of encouragement and praise from everyone, and then I started seeing UltraRunning Magazines all over the place.  Then I heard music, and I knew the aid station was coming.  I ran in, Eric was annoyed because he’d had a hard time finding the place.  I was there for 3 minutes–long enough to switch out my drinks again, swig a little pop, grab a handful of candy corn, and be on my way.

bizarre speed bumps everywhere on this trail/road.

bizarre speed bumps everywhere on this trail/road.

beautiful single track sections

beautiful single track sections

Section 5

5 miles  +1100′ elevation/-800′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:07

At this point, I was doing math in my head and realizing how incredibly well I was running.  I was also realizing that I was approaching the marathon mark, and with over 6k of climb, I ended up running a 6:31 marathon DURING my 50 miler.  As I contemplated these things, just before the marathon point, I bit it hard.  I quickly stood up, did my best to brush all the dirt and debris off me, and continued on my way.  Despite the fall, I was gaining confidence.  This section was pretty uneventful.  At one point, I ran into Jeff and Kirsten, and we stopped to chat for a minute.  I felt bad, but I cut the conversation off because I knew I needed to keep cruising.  I came back to the TrailsRoc aid station and knew there was a hot spot forming on my heel.  I figured it was the result of shit in my shoes, so I decided to stop to change them.  Since I was changing shoes, I changed bras and shirts, too, just to feel fresher.  Eric helped me, we switched out drinks, and I was back out running in 7 minutes.  I wanted to hang out longer in the aid station, because I knew the cursed Alpine Loop was coming, but I also knew I needed to just go finish this bullshit so I could move on to the easier, more enjoyable last 2 sections.

6k of climb, trail marathon, 6:31...I'll take that!

6k of climb, trail marathon, 6:31…I’ll take that!

As I left, it started to rain.  I was nervous about how the steep ski slopes were going to be in the rain, but had learned my lesson and brought my trekking poles with me.

Section 6

6.6 miles  +2200′ elevation/-2900′

Estimated finish time: 2:00

Actual finish time: 2:21

The first major ski slope descent, which I had been kind of looking forward to because I am a good downhill runner, was actually awful.  I tried to run, but it was too steep.  I “hopped” my way down, refilled water at the unmanned water stop and started climbing.  The rain had stopped, the sun had come out, and it was HUMID.  Awesome.  Exposed ski slopes, hot sun and humidity.  I felt like I was moving through quicksand. Made it to the top, descended and stopped at the trail head to the next ascent.  I got out my inhaler, because by this point, my lungs were not happy.  A guy came up on me.  He was concerned.  I assured him I was fine, but he continued to look back at me, making sure I was alright.  We ascended, then descended, the trail was really tore up from the rain and mud and runners, and then finally I was approaching the creek, and I found Picasso and Eric there.  At the creek crossing, Eric informed me that I needed to change my shoes and socks.  I don’t know how he knew, but I definitely did.  He encouraged me to just walk through the creek.  It was so cold at first, but then it felt so sweet on my poor tired feet, which were getting tore up from the jeep roads/rocks we were running on.  I spent 6 minutes in this aid station, changing shoes and socks, switching water bottles, and using the porta potty again.  I grabbed a baggie of chips, realizing I hadn’t really been eating much and I was about to climb that massive road hill again.  Eric told me to finish the whole baggie in this stretch, and to get moving.  I had been running with a decent time cushion for the whole day, but this stretch used up almost all of that.  I knew that I needed to refocus and run hard the last 2 sections of the course.


of course black diamonds.  of course.

of course black diamonds. of course.

the teaser view--that's the finish line...20 trail miles left to go!

the teaser view–that’s the finish line…20 trail miles left to go!

Section 7

7.1 miles  +1590′ elevation/-1250′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 2:01

Hiking up the road hill, I shoveled chips into my mouth like an animal while contemplating how well this run had been going.  I was realizing that I was coming up on 40 miles, which is way farther than I’ve ever run before.  While things weren’t feeling fresh anymore, I was surprised to be mostly pain-free.  I felt like I’ve felt in marathons and 50ks.  Manageable soreness and tiredness.  I dipped back into the trail and started to move.  On one of the downhills, I came across a 100-miler who was struggling.  We spent the next mile or two running alone, but within eye sight of each other.  He finally sat down on a tree and I passed him.  I asked if he needed anything and he just laughed and said he needed a break.  I got that.

the hill keeps going up after the turn...and up and up and up...

the hill keeps going up after the turn…and up and up and up…

I tried really hard to focus, but my energy was waning at this point.  I could feel myself slowing down on the uphill hikes, and I couldn’t really run a lot of the flats/downs, because they were either super technical (I started rolling ankles and stumbling around at this point and contemplating how I would finish the race if I broke an ankle, because at 40+ miles in, no one was going to pull me).  If the trails were technical, they were running near a ravine, and one wrong step or bad stumble would land me in it.  So I just tried to move as quickly and efficiently as I could.  It felt like it took forever because it did.  I started to haul the downhills, though.  It hurt at first, but then it actually felt better to open it up a bit and get moving.  I came into the aid station to find a whole crew of TrailsRoc-ers with Eric and PIcasso.  I changed my shirt one more time, drank some Dr. Pepper, had a headlamp forced on me by Eric (I was convinced I wouldn’t need it) and laughed my way out of the aid station, knowing that I would see everyone again at the finish.  THE FINISH!!!  Aid station time for this section: 1 minute.

a power line section--it was like I was at home on the 0 SPF course...

a power line section–it was like I was at home on the 0 SPF course…

Section 8

6.3 miles  +1050′ elevation/-1250′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:29

At this point, I was realizing that to finish sub-13 (what?! Who ever would’ve thought THAT would be playing on my mind!?!?!), I needed to run these next 6+ miles in 1:15ish.  Which would’ve been fine if there were no climbs at all.  But there were.  And it became very quickly apparent that I had nothing left in my legs when it came to climbing.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t make myself climb faster.  I tried reasoning, I tried pumping my arms, I tried keeping up with people who I started running into.  Nothing worked.  So I just settled in.  I started leap frogging guys early on in this section–I’d blow by them on a downhill, they’d comment about how impressively I was moving downhill, then they’d catch me partway up a climb.  We talked about other things as we picked our way along the course.  One of the guys was a 100 miler, and we started talking about how this was my first 50.  I told him that since I was doing such a respectable job at this course, I could theoretically decide never to do this again, and he laughed and said “never say never.”  Distance running is a real slippery slope…one minute you’re training for a half marathon, the next you’re racing a 50 miler on mountains.  As the course became more steady downhills, I lost most of them.  The day had turned overcast, and the trail was pretty dark, so I busted out the headlamp.  A guy caught me and used my headlamp.  When we hit the paved path, he took off like a rocket.  I kept rolling, moving as quickly as I could.  Partway around, I heard people start screaming for me.  I saw Tim and Ron, on their way back out for the 100.  We high fived.  I kept going.  There was a girl walking on the path.  People were screaming for me.  I laughed and told her it was my fan base.  I took off my pack.  I threw it on the ground.  I sprinted in to cheers and pictures and Eric, waiting for me under the banners and clock.  I had done it in 13:14:30.  He opened his arms, I ran into them, and lost it.  I sobbed, then I laughed, then I immediately sat down to take off my shoes, realizing that I had blistered both heels, but hadn’t even given it much thought over the last miles, intent only on finishing and finishing well.  Then we rejoined “my fan base” for hugs and high fives.

Couldn't scream...or do anything else except hold back tears of joy and pride until I was safely in Eric's arms.

Couldn’t scream…or do anything else except hold back tears of joy and pride until I was safely in Eric’s arms.

Everyone else went back to the aid station, Eric and I went on an adventure to find pizza.  We came back to the aid station, I had 2 pieces of pizza and a Mike’s Hard, and it started raining monsooning again.  Lame.  I decided to go try to lay down in the tent and slept for a couple of hours, before waking up because I was starving.  I wandered back out, ate the rest of the pizza, hung out for a bit, then went to bed for a couple of hours again. We woke up this morning, packed up camp at a leisurely pace and then drove home.  Virgil was officially over for us.

Stay tuned for the aftermath report…spoiler alert: I can hardly walk this evening.  Terrible rap lyrics that my current state makes me think of:

“If you watch how I move you’ll mistake me for a player or pimp.”

Thanks, 50.  You obviously have run a 50 miler before…

Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 1: The prep

20 Sep

Virgil Crest first caught my imagination a few years ago, when we started working the aid stations there.  That first year, it poured all day and all night.  We stood in ankle deep puddles for over 24 hours, filling water bottles and encouraging people to get back out on the course.  I’d had no real experience with Ultra before this, but I was fascinated by the people we met and the camaraderie that seemed to abound.  Everyone was out in the same shit weather, on the same super hard course, all to get through and achieve something big.  I loved it.  It’s what has kept me going back for aid station volunteering every year since–for Virgil Crest Ultras AND Cayuga Trails 50.

So I had kicked around a plethora of 50 mile races in our area–I compared race dates, course descriptions, and price.  Ultimately, I realized that due to a very generous volunteer policy AND a lot of work volunteering, I could run Virgil for free.  “But it’s so hard,” whined a voice in my head–the same one that tells me I can’t run fast or far or up hills, so I should just sit on the couch and chill out.  And then I realized–50 miles is going to be hard no matter where you do it.  Might as well make it a race to be truly proud of, one to really test myself.

I made my training plan, spending many weeks building a solid base, then spending about 7 weeks aggressively adding miles to both my weekday AND more importantly long runs.  I spent the summer running, eating and sleeping–sleeping 8-10 hours a night AND napping during the days.  I was always tired–except when I was running.  Then I felt like I was on a mission.  Operation Virgil had began, and I was taking the training very seriously.  I’m not sure why this race was so different from other ones, but I suspect that a major reason was the HUGE bump in distance–jumping from 26.2 to 31 was not that big of a deal.  31 to 50, though?  That’s some serious business.  50 MOUNTAINOUS miles??  No room for half-assing.  I needed to be ready.

I can honestly say that I worked harder for this race than I’ve ever worked before.  I suppose I was nervous to admit that going into the race, because I was worried about what happened if I ran a “just ok” race.  I was nervous to admit it, because I didn’t want to seem cocky.  But every time I heard someone say it was going to be hard or the course was difficult, I became more determined than ever to do well.  I KNEW it would be hard.  I KNEW the course was a bitch.  That was why I trained the way I did.  Having never done a 50 before, though, I didn’t know if it was enough.  I knew what experienced ultra-runners were telling me–that I was VERY well prepared–but I couldn’t believe it, just like the first time I ran a marathon, I couldn’t believe a 20 mile long run would get me through a 26.2 mile race.  I guess for me some things need to be experienced to be believed.  All day yesterday, all I could think was “you trained your ass off for this, and it is paying off.  Every step of the way, your work is paying off.”  And I was so proud of that fact.

A few weeks ago, we got word that the course was changing.  I believe the email that was forwarded to me said something to the effect of “it’s going to have to be more difficult for the runners, but easier for me and the volunteers.”  I stopped reading that one early on.  Yikes!  I don’t want to know if this is going to be harder. Ignorance is bliss.

But last week, we got another email, and this one gave the new course descriptions/elevation profiles (after talking about potentially changing some of it, possibly making it shorter by a mile or two, or possibly eliminating some elevation).  Initially, I had decided not to look–why stress about anything, especially if it wasn’t set in stone anyway?  But then I couldn’t help myself.  I’m a planner.  I needed to feel prepared.

Toying around with the numbers, I came up with a rough estimate of what I thought I might be able to pull off for each section.  My guesses looked something like this:

Section 1: 6.3 miles +1250’/-1050′  (estimated time 1:30)

Section 2: 7.1 miles +1250’/-1590′ (estimated time 1:30)

Section 3: 6.6 miles +2900’/-2200′ (estimated time 2:00)

Section 4:  5 miles +800’/-1100′ (estimated time 1:30)

Section 5 (Reverse of 4) 5 miles +1100’/-800′ (estimated time 1:30)

Section 6 (Reverse of 3) 6.6 miles +2200’/-2900′ (estimated time 2:00)

Section 7 (Reverse of 2) 7.1 miles +1590’/-1250 (estimated time 1:30)

Section 8 (Reverse of 1) 6.3 miles +1050’/-1250′ (estimated time 1:30)

This seemed all ok to me, but then I realized that put me at a 13 hour finishing time for a super-challenging 50 miler.  I didn’t know if I was capable of that, much less of maintaining a relatively steady overall pace for each section.  So I decided that these times were just more of a pipe dream, and I’d see how long I could hit these marks, figuring that by Section 3, I’d be way off target.  I didn’t think I’d share them, but then I ended up giving them to Eric last minute, along with crew driving directions, so he had some idea of what I might be doing.

So my real goal was just to finish the race, and at one point I figured that 2 hours between each aid station would yield me a finish time of 16 hours. So I had decided that anything under 15 hours was going to wow me, and anything just over 14 hours was going to be about as good as it got.  When people asked me what I thought I’d run, my standard response became “anywhere from 13 to 16 hours.”

My only other REAL concern was having to run at the end alone in the dark–I figured if I could pull in a 14-ish hour finish, I’d cut my in-the-dark-in-the-woods time to a minimum.  I know this is ridiculous, but even as a grown adult, I hate the dark.  I hate not being able to see what’s around me, and being in the woods at night gives me the heebie jeebies.  Even camping.  So I wanted to run in the dark as little as possible.  But I knew that meant I’d have to push the pace, and I wasn’t really positive what I’d be capable of.

We packed up on Friday night after work and drove out to Virgil.  I picked up my bib, signed a waiver, let them take my picture (in case they needed to send out search and rescue…I am not even joking.  It was the most bizarre thing ever…) and we headed to the TrailsRoc aid station to camp.  I hung at the campfire for a bit, but went to bed very early (like 9 or something).  It was a rough night for Eric, and so I didn’t sleep well either.  When my alarm went off at 4 am, I was ready and anxious to go.  Not nervous really–just ready.  All week leading up to the race, I never felt SUPER nervous…just anxious to go test myself and prove myself.  I had been visualizing and dreaming of race day for weeks now, and I was ready to focus and kick off my adventure. I ate half a peanut butter bagel, got dressed, and we headed out to Hope Lake for the start!

Stay tuned for the full race report and the aftermath report. 🙂


12 Sep

I normally really love tapering for a race.  Mostly because I am always ready by taper to relax, to cut back, to just get ready to run my race.

And this training cycle was no different.  During my hard-work-weeks, my built-in cut back week fell during Mighty Mosquito 99 week, which I had thought was perfect…not thinking about all the miles of hiking and the time on feet I’d be logging.  So technically I went 6 weeks of major mileage (plus all of the base-building I did before those really hard weeks) with no real breaks.  In those 6 weeks, I ran 2 20’s, 2 26+ mile runs, and one more almost marathon effort (all with major elevation change and all but one solo efforts, which ups the mental toughness factor), plus the MM99 weekend of 36 miles (much of which was hiking) in 48 hours with literally NO sleep.  My weekly mileage hovered in the 50 mile range, with a peak week of 70.8 milles.  I have never run mileage like this before.  I am thrilled with how well I have seemed to handle it, and so excited to see how much easier it will be the next time around.

Despite all of these stellar runs and weeks, I was ready for taper.  I took the week after the 70 mile week pretty easy, getting in only about 30 miles.  I was bummed at first, but then remembered that a few months ago, a 30 mile week would have been cause for major celebration.  I also had to look at the fact that I didn’t think I had it in me to do any more than those 30 miles.  My body was trashed from all of the work I’d done the previous weeks.  So I took that time to just chill and recover.

Last week was my first “official” taper week, and I still put in 40 miles, and they started to feel mostly better by the end of the week.  40 miles = taper.  Man this ultra thing is serious business.

This week, I’ve got 20ish miles on the plan.  I was supposed to run 10-12 today as my final long run, but I opted to go cheer for Eric and some other friends at the Ossian Mountain Run, planning to run this afternoon, post-race.  It poured the entire morning, and by the time we left, my lips were blue and I was shivering uncontrollably.  I laid down on the couch under 2 big blankets and woke up a little while later to find it was still raining.  As much as I wanted to go out and run, I don’t need to get sick a week before my race.  I’ll wait and get my run in the morning, when it’s hopefully less rainy…I have to admit, I feel a little soft for this decision.  But I figure I’ve been a hardass for most of my training thus far, so I can afford to be a little soft during my taper.

I’m glad we were at Ossian.  It was a great pump-up for me pre-Virgil. Watching people doing a really challenging run is always inspiring.  The race atmosphere is so great.  And being around the trail running community that I love so much always gives me warm fuzzies (not warm lips were blue ha).

Today, standing on the side of a ski slope, I was antsy.  I wanted to run.  I thought about volunteering to sweep (but the course was so wet and slick I knew it was silly to risk injury).  I thought about hiking to the top of the ski lifts until Eric finished, just to practice (but realized how silly that is…my work is done).  For maybe the first time in my lift, I saw people running a really challenging course and felt race remorse instead of relief that I hadn’t signed up for something so difficult.  The past few months have changed me–there’s no doubt of that.
So I am antsy.  I am ready.  There are still those lingering doubts and worries, but overall, I know I am ready. Last night, I started playing with math and looking at the course and thinking about how long the race will take me.  The problem is that the course has been changed, so there is no way to know exactly what I’m in for–other than a LOT of climbing and descending over those 50 miles.  I started to go crazy looking at things, so I stopped.  I am trying not to look or think about it any more.  I am prepared, I have done the work, and I will finish this race.  How long it will take, how badly it will hurt (during and after) are unknowns.  I normally don’t like unknowns much, but the past couple of years of running and of personal shit have helped me come to terms with unknowns.  I am excited for next weekend, to see what my body IS capable of.  I am excited to see the culmination of months worth of training and preparation.  If you run, you know the race is not THE accomplishment–it’s just the ending point of weeks or months of accomplishing things.  And I am antsy to close out another training cycle full of accomplishments and then celebrate with friends (and crew and aid station for the 100 milers still chugging along)!!

I just have to ride out the antsy-ness until next weekend!