Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Race Report: Gorge Waterfalls 50K

Flying at mile 29ish

I would like to start this entry off with giving the biggest shoutout possible to photographer extraordinaire Glenn Tachiyama for capturing, on more than one occasion, the exhilaration and pure joy I (and several hundred other runners) felt over this past weekend! Because of his talents and devotion to the trail running community, I get to continue reliving my favorite moments, as well as share them with people in my life. Thank you, Glenn, for who you are and all that you do!

So. Have I mentioned recently how much I love this sport? Thank goodness for all the lessons learned (well, relearned, or truly hammered home, at least) at Orcas this year. At this weekend's Gorge Waterfalls 50K in the scenic Columbia River Gorge in northern Oregon, I started more toward the middle of the pack, and took my sweet time warming up over the first few miles. Please, universe, let me remember this pearl of running wisdom in my races from here on out.

Due to some last minute trail closures and crazy late-season snow, James had to revise the course multiple times in the weeks leading up to Sunday - ultimately, the revised course featured less elevation than the original one, and may also have been a bit short of a true 50K. Throw in a flat tire on the race supplies van on race day morning, and I'm sure this one was a bit of an RD's nightmare - but for the runners, it was quite a dream! Tons of beautiful waterfalls, well marked course, aid stations with awesome volunteers, yummy finish line food, and as always, a fantastic community and overall vibe. Thank you, James and Candice and everyone else who helped make this happen.

Anyway, the revised course played well with my current strengths - a lot of twisty, technical trails but with long, relatively flat sections, and only two really sustained climbs.

A decent section of flat road in the middle of the course also undoubtedly shaved some minutes off my time. I hit the halfway/turnaround point in exactly 2.5 hours, which is more than a little ridiculous, given that my previous 50K PR was 5:35, run on a far flatter course. I did slow down some on the return, but felt pretty darn good the whole time. I had some great conversations with other runners out there, many of which continued at the finish line party afterward.

The out-and-back nature of the revised course (versus the original point-to-point) actually turned out to be pretty cool, because I got to see some of the pack-leading rockstars like Max King, Ian Sharman, Stephanie Howe and Jenn Shelton...Oregon runners, represent! This was my first ultra run outside of Washington state, and though there were plenty of familiar faces there, it was fun to run alongside so many new ones, too.

First Glenn sighting, mile 10ish. So excited to see him, I leapt skyward to make a fool of myself :P

I tried some new things this race. I ran with handheld water bottles instead of a hydration pack - YES. I consumed significantly fewer calories than past races, but my fueling regimen (see "Race Recap" notes below) seemed to do the trick. I probably could/should have started drinking/eating a little earlier in the race than I did, but overall, my stomach and energy levels did great - no bonking, no cramping, nothing - woohoo!

Loving life (Photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

My only troubles were my feet, which got thoroughly soaked from the sloppy, muddy trails and several shallow waterfall crossings. Compounded with some very rocky sections, my feet - which typically don't give me trouble at all - were in some serious pain toward the end of the race. I wasn't able to rip down the downhills as fast as I usually do. Fortunately, the extra hill training and strength training I've focused on the last month or so paid off on the uphills; I could feel my legs were far less fatigued on the climbs this time than they were at Orcas. That felt GREAT. I shall run more hills.

With Tom and Elodie at the finish line. I wouldn't be where I am now in the world of trail running without these two wonderful souls!

I crossed the finish line in just under 5:15 - a PR for me of 20 minutes, although with the likely shorter distance, not entirely sure it counts as a PR. Nevertheless...very satisfied!


Average weekly mileage in 8 weeks leading up to race day: 40 miles + sporadic cross-training (cycling, snowboarding, yoga/strength)

Peak weekly mileage: 71 miles

Longest single run in training: 29 miles

Race Day Breakfast: Green smoothie, boiled egg, cup of coffee, and a few squares of dark chocolate

During the run:1/2 packet of Perpetuem (carb/protein beverage mix), 3 GU's, a few Endurolytes (electrolyte/salt tablets) and 1 squeezable packet of almond butter

Friday, March 23, 2012

Simple pleasures

Sometimes I forget just how valuable and rejuvenating even just a few minutes of dedicated quiet "self time" can be. The past week has been pretty nutty, and from the looks of my iCalendar, the coming one will be, too. It's all good stuff - putting in long miles on the trails, road trips for out-of-town races, working with people who have become like family to me, coaching Girls on the Run, dinner plans with friends, promoting REI's upcoming Running Shoe Expo in Seattle (April 14 - come one, come all!), and other life sundries - but it's always daunting to have so many of my waking hours scheduled in advance...particularly on days that start at dawn, and hop from activity to activity until dusk.

Wednesday this week was that kind of day. Early-ish morning run with a great bunch of folks, home for a quick shower and lunch, Girls on the Run practice, check-in meeting with my fellow coaches, then straight to work after that. Except! Except that there was less traffic than expected between my meeting and work, and I wound up with a bonus half hour.

So I seized the opportunity to take a walk (in the evening sunshine!) to one of my favorite spots in Seattle, the Row House Cafe in South Lake Union. I ordered a tasty cup of lentil soup, and soaked up the peace of every minute I spent curled up next to the window. I had some people-watching opportunities and a good book. Absolute bliss, seriously. Long live quiet moments among the loud ones.

(Also, their Pandora station or whatever they were playing - in conjunction with the Shazam app on my phone - introduced me to this lovely little song. It captures well my mood in that moment.)

Road trip tomorrow! Oregon, here we come! More soon.

Monday, March 5, 2012

To every woman who's ever beat me in a race

Today was my first day coaching for Girls on the Run at a local elementary school. First of all, AWESOME. Could I imagine a better opportunity to blend my passions to do something small but hopefully good for the world?!

Second of all, in preparation for the season, one of my co-coaches and I met up for tea last night at an old haunt on Capitol Hill. Unsurprisingly, some of our conversation drifted to our own experiences running. She's someone who's been running her whole life, and has loved it from day one. Although, by all appearances, I seem to be one and the same, the truth is that I'm not. I ran track for two miserable years in middle school, and pretty much hated it. When I picked up running recreationally on my own again midway through high school, I still pretty much hated it. Although I subscribed to Runner's World and desperately wanted to be one of those endorphin-crazed running devotees, I was an impostor for many, many years before the real love kicked in.

(But goodness am I glad I stuck it out!)

The funny difference that my co-coach and I discovered was in what we say to people who have tried to run but don't enjoy it at all. Her advice is, "Stop running. If you don't love it, you never will. Find something else you actually like to do, and do that instead." My advice is, "Run more. If you don't love it yet, you aren't running far enough." Because for me, the first few miles are (still!) almost always miserable. It takes me that long to warm up, to get into a groove - and of course, it took me several years of running regularly to get to the place where 5 miles could feel like a warmup instead of a workout. And those same several years are how long it took me to go from being someone who detested running to someone who genuinely embraced it.

Even the minutes or hours leading up to a run I've promised myself to do can be excruciating in their own way; given how much I love this sport at this point, it's surprising how much mental energy I sometimes have to drum up to get motivated to just get out the door.

So what is it that keeps me motivated? Here's an incomplete list of a few things:

  • Food/supporting my eating habit

  • Endorphins, stress relief, happiness

  • To find creative flow and generate ideas that only come when I'm running

  • General health, well-being, strength, and longevity

  • Community, and the friends I've made running

  • The unique joy of exploring beautiful places on foot

  • Personal challenge, pushing my limits

  • Inspiration derived from other talented runners

  • Competition, wanting to continually improve myself

  • Hoping to inspire others when I can

  • To experience humility

It's that last one that stuck with me on my post-GOTR-practice run today. Every step, every hill, every mountain, every acceleration, every bit of force that ripples up my quadriceps, even every injury...remind me that I am small and human.

Ultrarunning, in particular, is a world dominated by (relatively) older folks. On the one hand, I feel extraordinarily grateful to have discovered this sport in my twenties. Although I don't have the advantages of college track/cross country experience, or the featherweight boons of the traditional runner's body, what I do have going for me are the years in front of me. Ironically, for the world of athletics, my youth is probably the greatest detriment of all to my running right now. I feel like the equivalent of an uncalloused foot...for as many hard runs as I've dragged myself through in training and races alike, I'm still pretty fresh and tender in the grand scheme of things.

I have the deepest admiration for so many of the women kicking my butt at these races, who are often close to twice my age, and understand more than I do yet just what a mental game this sport is. A single tough hill climb still has the ability to ravage my self-esteem, to push me to the brink of despair. I look forward to someday, I hope, being as mentally tenacious as so many of these women are. They inspire me. And perhaps that sense of being reminded just how small I really am, but how much potential there is for me to grow, is one of the greatest motivators of all. So to all of you, those who've passed and reduced and left me in the dust, I thank you!

I hope that, in much simpler words - or perhaps without words at all - I'm able to impart some of the love and awe and contentment I feel when I run to these little girls whom I've been entrusted with coaching for the next couple of months. Pay it forward!