Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sehgahunda Trail Marathon

I have been hearing for quite a while now about how tough Sehgahunda is.  I’ve heard it’s “tougher than Ironman” and “intense from start to finish”.  I did not diminish these comments and prepared for an intense day.  I’d heard of its intensity from too many people to dismiss these comments, but I’d also made the incorrect assumption that my previous tough trail races would give me an edge.  What I should have done is looked at the damn elevation chart.

I didn’t do that until the ride to the start with Lisa, Gary and Dan.  I assumed the race logo with the scribbled-in line was decorative.  They sort of laughed and informed me that that was the in fact the elevation chart for the course.   All the website stated was,
            Your meander through the wooded single-track along the rim will be punctuated by a seemingly interminable series of gullies, each entailing a rapid descent and a climb again to the rim. Many small stream crossings and ever-present roots will keep you on your toes. Pace yourself well. The course does not get easier as you near the finish. Prepare to test your endurance, prepare to have a blast, and prepare for an adventure!”

At the start I was informed that there are 112 v-shaped gullies that I would have to traverse. I covered 111 of these gullies without much incident.  However one of them (somewhere in the 30’s) took me out big time.  I usually wear a pair of leather bike gloves for trail races.  They help me grab support and protect my hands when I un-expectently become eye-level with the trail.  Well this time, I only remembered to pack one.  Sehgahunda made sure it was the wrong one.  I don’t know what triggered the wipe out, but I remember feeling airborne and I remember a thud.  I came out pretty unscathed except for this odd feeling in my knee.  I could still run, so I got back on my feet and trudged on.

Gullies were not the only hazard, by far.  I was also faced with mud, creeks, roots, rocks, waist high grass, barbed wire, tons of downed trees in the trail that I alternatively had to climb over, under or through, and 80+ degrees weather.  I freakin’ LOVED it!

Within the first six miles, I knew that my legs had not recovered enough from my last run to properly face Sehgahunda.  Regardless, I knew I was going to give it what I had and find the finish line, no matter what.  One of the great things about Ultra’s is the camaraderie.  Whenever I would see Gary on the trail, he would burst out in song.  (I know Jim and Marco, if they are reading this, know what song it was!)  It really picked me up.  No way I’m not going to finish when I’ve got friends here.

Then things changed.  I ran in to Dan about mile 10 and he was not doing well.  Sehgahunda was not kind to him.  Now, Dan is pretty die-hard.  He’s done the Beast of Burden four times as well as Virgil Crest.   He knows what he is doing, but this was not his day.  He was hurting, big time, and I could not leave him to fend for himself.  I gave up “racing” at that point and stayed with him for about five miles at a pace that we would have easily been lapped by a mall-walker.  Eventually, I got him to an aid station, where I assumed he would end his race.    Leaving him in good hands, I headed back on the course.

Helping Dan was good karma, but it also put me much closer to the cut-off times than I would have liked.  I had to work my tail off those last 11 miles; I knew I now had to adjust to being on the trail an hour or so longer than I planned.  To top it off, around mile 20, my knee started its non-cooperation on the down hills, and they became quite painful.  Then I met Stephanie.  She is a Marathon Maniac with tons of great advice.  We finished side-by-side, smiling! Oh, and I’ll never count out Dan again.  He dug down and rallied to finish the race!

It was an amazing experience, and I will be back!!!

I was scheduled to run the Buffalo Marathon the next day.  I wanted to do two back to back to move up a level with the Marathon Maniacs.  When my knee started hurting, I decided to drop to the half marathon.  However, Buffalo didn’t like that idea and refused my request to change distances.  I debated so much about what to do next.  I knew if I ran the marathon it was going to be a trudge and logistically, I had better things to do with my day.  It was my son who convinced me to not even start by saying “Mom, you did almost three marathons in one day, why do you have to see if you can do 2 in 2 days?”  Good God, I love that kid.  I immediately switched roles from runner to coach/pacer.

I spent the next 2 hours and 10 minutes running from place to place on the course.  I was able to get to Noah six times.  With the final few miles, I jumped on the course to pace him to the finish line.  Noah was cranking out negative splits and with pacing, was able to pick it up to  a 7:30 pace.  He finished with a personal record on his THIRD half marathon with only one week of training.  I can’t remember EVER being so happy and proud at a finish line.  It ended up being a PERFECT race weekend.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run

The night before my first marathon, my friend/neighbor/mentor came by to wish me luck (with an Aero bar, God bless him).  Before he left, he said the number “19”.  To abate my confusion, he explained that he likes to dedicate miles to friends, family members even non-friends.  Giving dedicated time to one person for a full mile is a wonderful distraction.  He claimed 19 as his number.  I’ve kept this technique ever since, and I find it invaluable.  BTW, guess which mile Dave was waiting for me at?

During my drive to Cleveland, I finalized whom I planned to dedicate miles to, although sometimes people just jump into my head and are dedicated by default.  Keeping people in my thoughts who have touched my life has gotten me to push further than I believed possible.  Moreover, I planned to dedicate my race to a special friend and her husband.  If they can get through their trials, I was going to draw strength from this family whose sense of normal changed in an instant.  I wore my LiveStrong shirt, and I must have been asked a dozen times if I was a survivor.  My answer was “Nope, but my friend’s husband is going to be”.

I had three goals for the North Coast Challenge 24 hour Endurance Run:
1.     Avoid bears.   After Oil Creek, this is standing rule I have for all races.
2.     Stay mentally in the race.  I pledged not to let negative self-talk keep my legs from doing what I trained them to do.  This would be hard, as I was alone at this race.  None of my trusty running mates, or my family was making the trip.
3.     Finally nail 75 miles.

Truth be told, there was one person I “knew”.  Valmir Nunes, who is a world-class runner and current record holder at Badwater.  Although I’ve been in the same room and course with him a few times, the only English word I’ve ever heard him say is “Coca Cola”.  Valmir speaks Portuguese.  I do not.

We saw each other waiting to sign in.  I said “Beast of Burden”, and he made a shiver.  Barriers broken.  On the course Valmir was a beast, until he wasn’t.  I saw him balancing on a tree limb trying to stretch out his calf.  His balance was shot.  I left the course and went over to hold his hand to help steady him.  He ended up dropping after 50 something miles.  He said “feet: bam bam bam, not shhh, shhh, shhh”.  So something was off with his stride.  This wonderful man then stayed at the race for an hour after he was done and became my personal cheerleader.  Every lap, he blew kisses, he pumped his fists, and he clapped.  It felt wonderful.  What a great guy!!!
North Coast is a .9-mile course.  I would have to cover it 84 times to complete 75.6 miles.  (I’m still a bit jaded about having to do the .6, but I’ll complain about that later.)  It’s a pretty park that reminded me of Narragansett, RI.  The waves were actually crashing on the shore.  People were parasailing and surfing on Lake Erie.  I was trying to figure out how and when I would dive in ;).  I even had someone ask me “what ocean is that?”  Really?  We are in Cleveland!
Early in the race, I saw a hand-made sign that said, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time”.  Brilliant, I’m going to eat an elephant and it’s going to take exactly 84 bites.  Here is how my meal went:

First quarter:  21 Laps.  The computerized timing was down, so they manually kept track of laps.  I kept a tally mark on my arm.  I was easily able to keep the paces that I had set out and I felt strong.  I was meeting some great people.  The wind was challenging at +20 mph and it was humid, but all in all a great day for running.  I was actually 2 hours ahead of my plan.

Second quarter:  21 laps. I was pleasantly surprised with my marathon time.  I haven’t trained for one in two years, and I have two in two weeks.  However, as I progressed through this quarter of the race, the humidity was affecting me.  Unfortunately, I’m not built for running in heat.  My kidneys don’t like it.  I first noticed that my fingers were swelling. I took off my rings and loosened my watch. My fingers on my left hand then went numb and tripled in size.  I didn’t have any other signs that kidney stones were immanent (I wasn’t bloated, my output was good, and no back pain).  I ran two miles with my hand resting on my shoulder to drain things out.  That did the trick, but I was going to have to change my race strategy.  No caffeine, and I was going to have to slow up my pace so I could better manage my electrolytes.  Small sacrifices to stay in the race.  After all, I still had half an elephant to eat.

Third Quarter: 21 laps. I set up small victories for myself.  I got a PR for my 50-mile performance by almost ½ hour, even with my now slower pace.  But the slow pace built up a LOT of lactic acid.   I went to the on-site PT to see what he could break up.  He was sweet, doe-eyed man, who was soft-spoken, and he kicked my butt with something he called “the stick.”  It hurt like hell, and he showed no mercy.   I had to bite my lip to keep from crying.  But it did break up my lactic acid.  The only problem was that it took me a couple miles to heat up.  I was freezing from lack of heat generation.  I could picture that elephant 3/4 done, and I wanted to finish my meal.

Final Quarter:  21 laps. Without a doubt, I knew exactly which part of the elephant I was eating now.  I divided this quarter up into seven lap segments and I power-mall walked them all.  The first and second segments were fine, but I was cold, exhausted and just wanted to be done.  I got really pissy after lap 75.  This is where I had to make up all of the missing .1’s from the .9-mile course.  I had two recurring thoughts going through my head at this point
(1) 71, 72, 73, etc. is a good place to stop
(2) I wont think it’s a good idea to stop so close to my goals tomorrow.  So, suck it up Buttercup.

Then on the final lap, I had an all out bitch fest (in my mind) about why I had to do 75.6.  If the course were just 1 mile, I wouldn’t be victim to this major injustice.  While my head was concocting ways to shorten the course or call my congressperson, my feet simply did what they have been doing for the past 20.5 hours and got me to the finish line. 
So, all in all, I met my three goals.  Although I did see a raccoon go nuts on someone’s supply tent.  I am very proud of myself and hurt from head to toe.  Once I can get off the couch, I’m going to buy a stick.