39 Years, 39 Miles

This will be brief, but yesterday I accomplished something I have always wanted to do, but didn’t feel I had it in me…until now. I know if I have any aspiration to be an ultra-runner I need to experience it for myself in an unofficial setting, that way I can test myself to the limit. There is no course support, no friends or family, nothing but your own support system and a lot of mental digging…only YOU can make yourself move forward. And only you can decide to quit. There’s no one else but you to make that call. But the nice thing is: there’s no clocks, no cut-off points, no pressure to succeed, no fear of failure…

I was inspired to complete my age in miles on my birthday, and decided no matter what I was going to give it my best attempt.  Yesterday was warm, and I knew from the beginning I wouldn’t be able to run all 39 miles outside, as the high was to be 89 degrees and sunny; my goal was to complete 39 miles total for the day, even if it was broken up, but I really wanted to make sure I did at least an ultra distance outside (which is anything beyond a marathon).

I hit the trails with just my Nathan handheld bottle and some fuel and electrolyte tablets. I took it slow and easy the entire time, making sure to drink water often and incorporate walk breaks throughout, and not just in the final miles. I brought an applesauce squeeze pouch, dates and raisins for my fuel, and I have to say I’m learning more and more to love raisins! I also made sure to stay on trails with as much shade as possible, but by noon it was very tough. Any time I hit full sun it was like Krytonite, and I felt like I was draining pretty fast. There was a nice breeze in the early hours but that soon just felt like a blast from a furnace by midday.

I managed to run 28 miles pretty strong, but by this point the heat was starting to get to me, and I start incorporating walking much more than I had planned. But happily I had no joint, tendon or muscle pain. I actually felt pretty strong! I totally attribute that to my new orthotics and my awesome Hoka One One Kailua shows. Since I have adopted Hoka into my life, I never, ever have nagging injury issues. No wonder ultra runners swear by them! My main thing was I had a toe blister on my left foot that hadn’t quite healed from my marathon at Sugarloaf (that entry is coming soon), so even though it was bandaged up, it still was quite bothersome.

I finished 32 miles in around 6:20, but that also included all of my stops to fill water, fuel up, and stand there and contemplate if I could move another step. All I could think of was cold fluids in ice: orange juice, iced coffee (the urge was SO strong to find a Wawa and get a huge iced coffee WHILE on the run), cold soda. By the time I got back to my car, it was 89 degrees. I was doused in sweat, trail grit, salt and my ankles were absolutely filthy with dirt lines. I was completely done with running outdoors, and decided I could finish up my mileage inside.

I got home and grabbed a ginger ale, and then jumped on the treadmill to finish up the 7 miles. I was damned and determined to do this, it was all I had planned for my birthday, and I wanted more than anything to prove to myself I could do this (even if my mind kept insisting this was a silly goal in the final hours). I did a slow five miles and then walked the final two miles…the blister was really getting the best of me, and honestly, I thought about ultra running and that there is NO shame in walking or going slow. Why else do they give 12-14 hours to finish the JFK 50? 24+ hours to finish 100 miles? Because you need breaks, you walk, you do a brief self-assessment. Then you get your bearings and continue forward.

In the end, I finished and felt great, took a long shower and scrubbed the trail grit from myself. The only weird thing I noticed that my appetite was lacking for the day, plus I was dehydrated no matter how much fluid I took in, in fact I barely peed for the rest of the day, even though I drank LOTS of water. But I was proud of myself at the end of the day…I completed the distance and didn’t give up. I proved to myself I do have it in me to complete an ultra. I even woke up feeling pretty refreshed and well-rested. I’m a little sore but not hobbling about at all, so that is a good sign for future events down the road.

Now I just need to figure out a way to keep those blisters at bay!

My Journey into Ultra-Running Begins!

For years I have wanted to dabble in the world of ultrarunners, there was just so much that appealed to me about it:

  • Long slow runs (I’ve always considered myself a Husky rather than a Greyhound)
  • Relaxed, non-competitive  atmosphere full of comradery rather than ego
  • Races on trails more than roads, I find they are SO friendly on the body, plus you really have to slow down in order to successfully traverse the terrain, so there’s less pressure to run fast
  • REAL FOOD on the course, plus you can really take your time at the stations to refuel and get a second (or sixth) wind

But then there are things about it that sort of scared me from it:

  • Blisters
  • Possible injury that would prevent me from running/training for future events
  • Losing a shoe in mud (this almost happened to me during a ten miler), plus the idea of river crossings (running in wet shoes sound horrible and very unappealing)
  • Blisters (Yes, I really have an issue with them)!

I personally approach running long distance very cautiously; I think it’s important to have experience, and if you ran a marathon…run another…and another…and ANOTHER until running a marathon is “easy” and it doesn’t take you a week to recover. I recover in usually 24-48 hours and get right back into training, but also approach it sensibly with walk/run intervals for at least a week.

I personally don’t think it’s good practice to jump from marathon distance to 50 miler. Start with a 50k or a timed endurance challenge (the ones local to me are 6-12 hours, and I know they can go to 24 but, again, NOT ready for that just yet, if ever) before trying to run a 50 miler. I will say I don’t think I will ever run a 100 miler, I think the most I would want to run is a 50 miler or 100k…but that’s probably the most I would ever want to do in my lifetime. My main reason is that I really don’t like the idea of running in the dark, during “off” hours, etc. My body is very specific as to sleep schedules, etc. and I have yet to even register for a night race (like a Halloween 10k) because I think my body will protest big-time. But my bucket list race is, by far, the JFK 50 Miler…someday!

I feel like my body is finally ready to tackle one this year, so I have several on my calendar for the fall, as well as other endurance challenges. Here is what my year is looking like, and yes, these ARE paid for so, in my mind, there’s no turning back. I’m committed! I also have friends joining me for a majority of these races, and with friends coming along for the ride, I’d never want to back out! We’re in this together!

May:

Two marathons in one week (one being a new state, Maine, and another in DE); I plan on doing the first pretty conservatively for fast recovery, like a 4:30 or 4:45 finish time. I’m hoping the second is faster, as the Maine course is a lot of downhill and is known for fast times.

I’m also hoping to do birthday run at the end of the month. My goal is a mile per year, but realistically I think a 39k is more possible for me at this point. I will see how my body fares, but I would like to finish 39 miles in 8 hours. If I feel it’s too much, I may just stick to a 39k. Another thing I may try to do is split the mileage up throughout the day, so it’s a little easier than trying to tackle all at once. THAT, I think, makes 39 miles possible for me.

June:

A full marathon on Saturday and a half marathon that Sunday. The half is a very fun local race called The ODDyssey, and a lot of people dress in costume. Since I plan on running very conservatively, I will also be in costume! I’m pretty sure dressing in my Ramona Flowers (from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) will be a pretty easy costume for running, the wig isn’t heavy and I can wear tights with shorts, etc. I’m hoping I can make a huge mallet, her weapon of choice, to run with as well! I never run in costume but I think in the spirit of the event it’s worth it. Several friends will be running this one as well, but I warned them I would be SLOW and I’d see them at the finish line to celebrate!

August:

My first timed endurance challenge, a local 6-hour trail run. I am hoping to run a 50k distance that day, but being that it’s August in PA, I have my reservations. It’s sure to be humid, but luckily will be OVER by 1 PM!

September:
A new marathon state, Iowa, for mid-month. It will be a small trail race, which is really more my thing. I think it will be fairly no frills, if the $50 registration fee is any indication.
Another timed endurance race at the end of the month, a 12-hour. My goal is 40 or 50 miles for that one. I’ll be running that one with my friend J.

There is also another timed race over Labor Day weekend that I am 50/50 decided upon, which is also a 12-hour. I think I want to see how I fare for the 6-hr in August before committing to TWO 12-hr races in one month. Plus I don’t have any running buddies that can join me for this one, and I think it would be tough to do without support on the course. But maybe it would be good to try to see how I do.

October:

A local trail 50k that is a full loop course with no repeating loops or out-and-backs. It is one that has been on my radar for YEARS and I finally think I can commit to it.

Another marathon in DE with a monster theme! I’m mainly doing it for the medal alone.

November:

Mid-month I will be doing another half/full marathon challenge weekend in PA in Bucks County, PA. The challenge is called The BUCKY challenge and you get an extra incentive for finishing both the half and full. Challenge accepted!

To summarize for 2015: 3 new states, and 10 official marathon+ races. By this point I will be at 24 states for my 50 states and DC marathon goal, and 35 marathons total (if I count the ultra races, which I think count).

January

J and I are going to do a B2B (Back to Back) challenge in Mississippi and Alabama (meaning: two marathons in two days), so a lot of my events and training from 2015 will prepare me for this. It’s something we’re both SUPER excited about!

I’m also really and truly hoping to run my first 50 miler in 2016, but I want to see how the training goes for this year. There is a local trail run that has a marathon, 50k and 50 miler in May, and I definitely would like to commit to that! I know more states will be added as well, as I think Chris and I will be touring the Badlands in the fall and I can actually knock out North and South Dakota in one week, so that would be a great way to get in some travel as well as earn some new states.

So how WILL my training look to prepare myself for these distance events?

Lots of back to back long run weekends and high mileage weeks in July and August. My ultimate goal is a 100-mile week in August. My max mileage in past years for training hovered around 70 for the week. This usually means doubles on weekdays, but it’s totally doable.

I am going to start incorporating a new BeachBody program into my training, called PiYo, which is a Pilates/Yoga hybrid that is low impact and involves no weights. I just started PiYo and  have sore abs two days later! It also looks like it will take some time to adjust to, as some of the moves are a little advanced for this extremely inflexible and uncoordinated gal, but I am determined to keep up with the program, even if for now I am spending half the workout just trying to watch and get the moves right.

Training runs with REAL food and smart hydration. I oftentimes in the past would do long runs with no fuel, and sips of water when I could find a fountain. I oftentimes felt awful and extremely tired by the end of it all. For any run 10 miles or more, I plan on eating at least 60-100 calories every 5 miles, and taking an electrolyte tablet every hour while carrying a handheld Nathan bottle with water. With summer looming, running in heat is NO JOKE, and I plan on training smart this year. Sample fuel will include:

  • Raisins
  • Dates ( I really dislike dates, but they are SO great for a fast carb shot!)
  • Sugary fruit that’s easily portable like grapes
  • Salted Onigiri (these are simply cold formed balls of rice, I ate this a LOT when I went to Tokyo, and I think these would make excellent fuel for training)
  • GoGo Squeeze applesauce pouches; other runners attest to the portable pouches of baby food, but I just can’t stomach the idea of strained sweet potatoes
  • Cold, salted, cubed potatoes (sound appetizing? LOL)
  • Trail mix made of peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips (OMG so good)
  • For longer races like my timed endurance runs I probably will have gluten-free pretzels and paleo cookies at my fuel stops, but I am trying to stick to a modified paleo diet for most training days.

Make sure I incorporate walk breaks into my runs. I know some people may think: Walk breaks? Isn’t that counter-productive? I beg to differ. For ultras, I feel it’s the only way for mere mortals such as myself to have stamina and keep going.  Ultras aren’t the same as marathons, you need to be able to keep moving, so going a little slower and allowing yourself walk breaks is a way to give yourself a little extra energy.

Believe it or not, I actually incorporate a lot of walk-breaks in my current training and can still manage sub-2 halfs and sub-4 full marathons without pushing myself super hard and I recover fast. I realize that yes, I can probably Boston qualify, but I really enjoy running a fun and conversational pace…I can still run a 3:51 full while chatting and laughing with other runners. That sort of thing is more important to me than a BQ, so to each his or her own!

So that essentially will be my approach, and if any current ultrarunners have any suggestions, please feel free to comment below! I will keep you all posted as these events happen, and I am SO incredibly excited to see how I fare for this year.