Monday, March 25, 2013

The Georgia Death Race was fantastically beautiful and went remarkably well, which is actually a little surprising given some of my decisions going into it but more on that after a little description of the race. Nobody knows the exact length of the course but its somewhere in the vicinity of 65 miles with about 30,000 feet of elevation change, maybe somewhat more but what's 1000 feet give or take amongst trail runners? They give you a map at pre-race so at least you know where you are and I even got a chance to use it once.
    When my alarm went off at 3 in the morning I wasn't entirely cheerful about the race start time but when I saw the sunrise across a range of mountains unbroken by power-lines or radio towers or buildings I just stopped and smiled. When I started running again I was still smiling and it lasted all the way to sunset, which I beat to the finish by a narrow margin. I even stayed cheerful for the 20 miles of forest service road (roads and I don't get along well and I didn't have quite the right shoes for it do to the aforementioned decision making).
    The aid stations and people were great. I got to know a couple people better than I did before the race and made a couple friends during the race, one of whom I wound up running in the last 3 hours or so with. I'm guessing, maybe Christian has a better idea of the time but I know absolutely that I could find the exact point on the course where we met. Its a funny thing about trails and one of my very favorites, the way you get to know people so quickly, the way you can remember certain places and moments with such clarity.
      What was harder than I expected? The steepness. I did hours of hill repeats and always the day before my long run and with extra attention to running the downhills hard. Even at the end of the race I had enough quad strength to keep running down hill on the roads but there was very little in my training as steep as several of the miles of hills in Georgia. You use different muscles or different parts of muscles when it gets really steep.  I could feel my effort level suddenly shoot way the heck up (meaning my heart hammered in my chest and it was harder to breathe) as soon as it got steeper than what I'm used to. Shortening my steps helped somewhat but I will train some steeper ups before my next race down there, or maybe just train it once in a while to stay well rounded.
    What about those decisions I'm pretty amazed didn't blow up in my face? I wore my new pack as planned. The weather turned out to be very warm so I wore my Vertical Runner race singlet which is a tested and very comfortable top in hot weather. Here's what I failed to consider; I've never worn that light, minimalist, racer back tank with that pack.  The pack straps rested directly on my skin for 65 miles and a lot of sweat. I got very, very lucky and didn't lose any skin at all. Also, Osprey makes a very, good product.
    I wore shoes I'd worn before in that they were the the same model (INOV-8 X-Talon 212 for the curious), but new in that I'd just taken them out of the box. That, in itself wasn't much of a problem but I don't trust myself to actually tie my shoes for races. I replace my laces with stretchy bungi laces and I remembered to do that. What I forgot is that it takes 10 miles or so to get them adjusted so that my foot stays put properly in the shoe.  I had a hot spot by mile 8 under my big toe and forefoot. Somehow, after adjusting the laces, the problem resolved and I finished blister free. That just doesn't seem believable. I didn't even lose any toenails.
    Oh, so then, on the recommendation of Vince, I picked up a pair of slightly heavier INOV-8 shoes with a little rock plate to wear on the forest service road sections. These I had considered wearing all race long initially since they were broken in. I changed my mind last minute and drop bagged them to mile 25. Did I change into them? Of course not. Do I know why? Not a clue. I guess I felt good at the time so I didn't want to change anything.  The 212 is a great shoe but its also very light and thin with no rock plate at all, just a little pad and a lot of traction.
    So when I hit the forest service road and it turned out to be pretty hard packed and gravel covered I figured I might as well run as fast and as much as possible for a while because my feet would only last so long.  My feet, as it turns out, are a whole lot tougher than they were a year ago.  They were tender but I could still run when the finish line came in sight.
    How did I finish? I often wonder how to answer that. Seriously. It took 15 and a half hours or so. I was the third woman to finish. Neither of those is really how I finished, its just numbers. I finished smiling. I finished uninjured and right with myself in my head. I finished at a dead sprint or what felt like it at the time and there were people I knew at the finish line and they put an arm around me.  I finished wanting to know how everyone I knew still out on the course was doing.

Oh, hey, if you live in northeast Ohio and you sign up for this race, message me and I'll tell you where to do hill repeats:)

In other news, I am running in Iceland in August in a Racing the Planet 156 mile stage race.  I am doing this to raise funds for a charity called Runwell which sponsors recovering addicts for treatment and encourages recovering addicts to participate in sports as part of a healthy recovery.  If you wish to contribute to my campaign, here's the link:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bandera 100 K (yup, I went to Texas)

    I didn't see a single mountain lion.  Its the one downside to touring the countryside by running a race; unless you're way out in front of everyone else you don't usually see as much wildlife as you might out hiking alone.  Bandera is in the Texas hill country and the hills are like home here in the Ohio in terms of length but they're rockier.  A lot rockier, and sometimes overgrown with sotol, which scratches the heck out of your legs.  Running Bandera in shorts means little scratches up and down your legs for a week or so after the race. Anyone who ran Bandera this year will probably also talk about the mud. Usually I like mud but this mud was different.  It was shallow but stickier than any other mud I've ever run through. Strange stuff, maybe the dust is finer out there.
    Running somewhere completely unfamiliar always makes me happy so that part of this race was great. That and the finish were the high points. The aid stations were good, and I really did enjoy the land out there. How to begin with the things that went wrong and how much to share? Well really, I guess there's just as much to learn from the stuff that goes wrong as from the stuff that goes right and the stuff that goes wrong might be more entertaining for the reader so here goes.
    I was on vacation the week before the race, snowboarding vacation in Mamoth. I had a great time! I did over use my right quad a little I think, although this wasn't noticeable until halfway through the race. Also, I got sick during vacation (drugged the cough, took alleve for the fever, kept going) and then I got better.  I was barely coughing by the day before the race and race morning I was less hungry than usual but still, no cough. No cough until mile 7 when I came up a hill a little to fast, breathed a little too hard and then had a coughing fit that got so intense I wound up stepping off the trail and throwing up everything I'd put into my system so far. Puking at mile7 of 62 isn't ideal but I stayed calm (mostly) and cursed minimally.
    I never puke during races and I can just about always eat but here I was, unable to do more than sip from my water bottle. After puking three times things seemed to quiet down. I had the ginger candies I always carry just in case but usually give away so I started eating one every 15 minutes or so.  By mile 20 I managed half a banana and a gel. My legs were starting to feel achy and shaky from lack of calories but I figured I was making up for it finally and I jogged on. 
    Around mile 35 I had gotten several more gels and banana halves to stay inside me and was feeling better except that my skin was getting prickly and my throat kept drying out. I didn't want to chug water out of nervousness about my stomach but then I realized peeing hadn't happened since back when I puked at mile 7. I stepped well off the trail and squatted down and made myself pee (if you're thinking 'TMI' then you just shouldn't be running ultras or you should get over that thinking). I looked at the whole tablespoon of pee that came out. It looked like watered down pepsi or maybe dark bourbon. 
    I know this is a very bad sign so I drank the rest of my water and took it slow to the next aid station about a mile and a half away. I stayed at the aid station long enough to drink 24 oz of water, paused to make sure it was staying and then refill my bottle again. Kidney's need water to work!  So does the rest of the body really. The rest of the race went pretty smoothly except that I'd figured on being 2-3 hours faster and so had drop bagged my headlamp at the later of the two possible drop bag locations. I started doing the math. I picked up my pace. The sunset was beautiful. Scary but beautiful. I did get to my light before full dark and without falling. I didn't drop bag an extra layer and it gets cold at night.  Cold and very windy!  I moved as fast as I could manage and started really trying to pile on the calories.
    So lets pause and see what can be learned. As long as the race lets you have multiple drop bags you may as well use them and have back up lights and clothes and maybe even shoes. At some point in the second half of the race I tore the upper in my right shoe. I could run on it but it rubbed a half dollar size patch of skin off the top of my foot by the end. What else? Oh, practice evaluating your body on training runs. Get into the habit of thinking about when you last ate, how much you've been drinking, when you last peed, whether you're getting a hot spot somewhere. I got lucky. I could have wound up touring the local ER.  On the other hand, if I'd been paying more attention I might have slowed down sooner to get the calories and hydration taken care of and then run more of the miles better.
    At the end of the race, during the last 10-15 miles I was actually passing other runners. There was this one woman, right at the end who kept getting back ahead of me on downhills all the way up to the very last one (the afore mentioned quad difficulty was slowing my descents). I could see her headlamp up ahead of me right when the sounds from the finish line began floating up the trail. I sped up, there was a chance I'd be able to catch her.  I almost stumbled trying to keep track of my progress toward her headlamp on the dark trail. Suddenly I could see the turn just before the finish. I sprinted. I ran that last 150 yards or so with energy I didn't know I had. I passed her right as we stepped onto the road and I kept going. It wasn't about place or beating someone really and there wasn't a big audience, it was just me finding out how much trying I had left in me.
    I felt great. Very winded, but so happy. Then the cough came back and I held onto a trashcan and coughed and puked until I wound up in the mud with dry heaves.  They passed pretty quickly. Oh, but the coughing was intense enough I peed on myself.  It was yellow.  The two people from the race who had come over to try to help me seemed concerned at how happy I was to know the color of pee.  Working and hydrated kidneys are a very good thing.  So's getting dry and clean and warm!  Thank you Tonya for helping me change into dry, warm clothes!      

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Picking up Heavy Stuff (and putting it down again)

    If you want to be a faster and less injury prone runner then strength training needs to get done.  I don't actually like weight lifting very much but due to so previous joint damage and also because I like running fast and I really hate being injured.  I wish just running was enough to stay strong enough to run well but there are a whole bunch of studies showing that's just not the case, especially as the years roll by.  I have done strength training pretty regularly a lot longer than I've been a distance runner and am reasonably knowledgeable so I decided I could probably find a way to get my whole body strength trained every week without having to spend too much time.  Before I explain what I do, let me remind you that improper form with some lifts can damage you.  Badly.  If you aren't sure then get someone to teach you.
    In order get some cardiovascular benefit from my strength training I use a rhythm of work and rest called 'tabata', which is 20 seconds of work then 10 seconds of rest repeating for a minimum of four minutes though I prefer five minutes.  Tabata is shown to give cardiovascular benefits.  I have a timer called a Gym Boss that can be programmed for any interval length and is great for all kinds of workouts.  There is a downloadable ap for tabata as well.  I bought it online for 20 bucks.  Since 10 seconds isn't enough rest to allow a solid effort on the next set what I do is alternate between to different lifts so that I have 50 seconds total to recover from a given lift.  Here is a list of all the lifts I do, though once in a while I vary the exact lift, for example a flat bench fly instead of a press.  If you aren't familiar with the weight lifting terms take yourself over to you tube. I spread this across four days because the equipment is in my basement but one could break this into just one or two days

Day 1
Flat bench fly  and   Seated row (though any row will work)
Flat bench dumbell press  and  Wide grip pull down
Five minutes rotating through ab exercises
Day 2
Squats  and  Arnold Press (or military press with dumbells)
Incline dumbell fly  and   reverse fly (which can be done on the incline bench)
Single leg extensions (its rehab for a knee and otherwise I'd do single leg dumbell squats)
Alternate legs instead of changing exercises
Day 3
Incline bench bicep curls  and  Rope Tricep push downs (I alternate arms for the curls)
Wide grip curls with a bar  and  Skull crushers (or close press)
Five minutes of rotating ab exercises
Day 4
Deadlifts  and  Dumbell side raises
Decline bench dumbell press  and  Upright row
Single leg deadlift with a dumbell (hold the dumbell in one hand and stand on the OTHER leg and alternate legs)

The ab exercises I do; 1. hanging abstrap curls which I usually do as side curls for the obliques and for improved lateral stability.  2. ab wheel  3. butt lifts where you lie on your back with your feet straight up and lift your butt up.

Why so many dumbells?  Machines are bad news.  Unless you are an average size and frame man the machine isn't really made for you.  Additionally, with dumbells your body engages stabilizers more than with bars or machines.  If you're planning to run around in the woods stability is good.  Sure you can't lift quite as heavy with dumbells so you won't gain so much muscle mass....oh wait, I'm a distance runner.  What about these awkward single leg lifts?  They improve your balance.  They even out your strength.  Many, many injuries and chronic running pains are mostly the result of strength imbalances.  Don't skip body parts just because you don't like the lift.   The single leg deadlifts in particular are something that has helped me handle hilly technical trail faster which is a whole lot of fun.
    How do I decide how much weight to use?  Well, start 5-10 pounds lighter than what you think is a good idea since its better to go a little light than get hurt just cross training.  After that whatever you can do for five sets.  I vary my weight and pace from time to time.  How many reps is a good goal?  Well, that varies with the lift too.  There are things like dead lift that I always do slowly with extra attention to form so I don't injure my back again (snowboarding).  I get seven or eight reps into twenty seconds.  With something like bicep curls I go a little faster.  I never, ever straighten my elbows or knees all the the way.  I don't lift in the seven days before an ultra distance race.  I don't lift on days when I do speed work, hill repeats or long run day.  I do lift on the two days a week when I don't run which makes me more comfortable taking the days off from running. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Next Training Plan

This is what I plan to do with my running for the next few months so that I will get faster and stronger by spring time.  Brief explanations are included.
My workouts will be more targeted this winter.  I will not do shortish long runs due to pain from longish speed work and longish recovery runs.  I will not do slowish speed work due to too much speed during long runs. 

Monday: off  (I strength train Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri in 15-20 min sessions but more on that another day)

Tuesday: 2-5 mile easy jog.  The distance will depend upon how my body feels and if I'm hurting a lot or feeling like I'm pushing the line for over trained then I'll skip this run and do yoga or rest.  20 minutes is the minimum time or this run.

Wednesday:  Speed work day.  For me, instead of trying to do lots of long intervals and tough it out and shorten the rests, which makes the workout tear up my body while rarely hitting a really high level of intensity, I will be focusing on short and intense workouts.  I am an endurance athlete, I'm already good at going long and not resting.  Speed work will be a 20 minute warm up followed by 30 seconds at 95% of my max (yup, a 200 meter sprint).  The rest period will be 3 minutes of slow walking.  I will do 6 reps.  I realize this seems like a long rest period and a short work out, but again, the goal is a level of intensity that will cause real physiologic change in terms of aerobic enzymes and transport proteins.  I did not invent this approach.  Going into the science behind it would not keep this blog readable and brief so I'm leaving it out.  If you run into knee trouble and just really can't get outside some weeks then I suggest doing these on a bike stand or elliptical and just going really slow during the 3 minute rest.

Thursday: 2-7 miles easy jog.  This run too is more about loosening things up and getting light cardio.  If I have any kind of nagging troubles this is one that can be skipped or cut down to 20 minutes or replaced with cross training.  If you have to limit your total mileage or have time constraints or are a multi-sport athlete then Tuesday and Thursday can be used to cross-train.  

Friday: Off

Saturday:  Either trail hill repeats or a trail tempo run, alternating each week.  Hill repeats for me will be on the long hill on the BBA course near the beginning of the loop where the trail used to be road.  It's a quarter mile long and runnable.  Any runnable hill will work as long as its trail, even if it almost flattens out in places.  I used to do 2 hours and try to keep my effort even.  Now I will be trying to do these as intensely and painfully as I can with pauses at each end for the first hour.  After than I will jog another half hour or so of them.  I have reached the conclusion that I will be faster over all in trail races at this point if I can move up and down hills a bit faster without getting too winded, which means that jogging up hill needs to be a lower percent of my max, which means my max needs to go up.  What will I do when it snows?!?  Take shorter steps, much shorter, and be prepared to fall up hill. I am preparing to trail race.  I will practice paying attention to my footing and bending my knees.  If you find you have trouble with the muscle control then slow down and bend your knees more.  If you can't do that then get your butt to a trainer or PT and learn to do squats and deadlifts properly and then do them and get stronger so you don't wind up seriously damaged.
    Trail tempo runs are done by effort, not by pace.  If you run trail you have to learn to gauge your effort because courses vary widely.  Even the same course may vary widely day to day.  Tempo runs will involve a 20 minute or so warm up and 20-45 min warm down.  The tempo portion will be 60-75 minutes.  I have trouble maintaining effort (hard but sustainable) so I will do them on a 1-2 mile tail loop, pausing for a minute after each loop to sip water and check my effort level.  In my case I will use the ledges loop in the CVNP. 
    What about falling on technical trail trying to go fast?  If you are a trail runner and the pace you are able to maintain for an hour in a row is one you can't maintain safely on trail then you need to do some strength and agility training and you need good trail shoes and a shorter stride.  What about in the snow?!?!!?  Yes, even in the snow.  I will take very short steps and turn my legs over faster.  This will mean my effort level is maintained. 

Sunday:  Long trail run day.  For me this will be 25-40 miles and they will involve absolutely no getting out of breath.  This is the endurance day and it is done on tired legs.  If you can keep moving for 30 miles on trail the day after hill day then you are ready for a 50 mile trail race.  If you can do 24 miles then you are ready for 50K success. 
    My total weekly miles aren't all that high but my one long run will stay long and steady.  There will be much hill walking.  Every 3rd-5th week depending on how my body feels, the long run will be at the shorter end of the range.  For anyone trying to follow my general training schedule, the long run should be what ever is long for you.  If you are training up to 50k then your long run might be 15-25 miles.  I will be running a 100 K in mid January and a 100 miler in June.  These are not new distances for me.
    What about snow on the trails making it too hard to get the miles done?!!?  When it snows I run time and not distance.  How ever long it generally takes me to run about 30 miles in training, that's how long I'll spend that day if 30 miles is what I would have done.  Sure its a guestimate but heck, so are some of the race distances (thank you Rob Powell, I recommend Forget the PR 25K to people all the time).  I will not go run on pavement just to get miles in.  That does not help trail running at all.  I will have strong legs in spring!  The number of miles doesn't matter when it snows.  If you find you have to take tiny steps and make it 2 miles in an hour because of a foot of snow on the trails when you could have done 6 miles out on the road, don't fret.  If you want to run well in trail races, stay out there on the trails year round.  If you can't figure out what to wear, google it and read blogs and post on trail running fb pages and try things out on short runs close to home.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mountain Masochist

    I had a great time at this year's 30th anniversary Mountain Masochist!  The new course changes mean more single track and less pavement.  For those unfamiliar with the course, over half the terrain is  trail that could be driven over with an ATV or a jeep.  It's dirt, but it's wide, hard packed and full of smallish rocks.  The scenery out there in the blue ridge mountains is beautiful, the hills are mostly runnable and the weather is generally on the cool end of mild.
    This year the weather was colder and most of the second half of the course was under a foot or more of snow due to Hurricane Sandy.  The snow slowed the whole race way down and even led to a half hour extension of the usual twelve hour cut off time.  For me the snow meant a whole lot of fun and, I think, a competitive edge even though running fast down the mountain led to a slide out into a knee deep drift and a little bit of a bounce off a tree.  The snow made me feel happy to be alive and the 35 degree temperatures in the late race kept me moving fast to stay warm.  The longer I run the more I realize how much I enjoy unpredictable and technical trail.  I'm not sure whether I'm truly any more agile than other runners around me or whether I just run better happy and I don't care. 
    The highest point in the race and a new addition to the course the year is a lookout at the top of a short out and back that gives a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that's the best I've ever seen.  I got up there and just stopped.  Not for long since I knew from the out and back nature of that section that there were three women not far ahead of me, but still I looked long enough that I've got a picture of it still set in my mind.  That said, I did capitalize on the down hill to catch those three women and I managed to keep ahead all the way to the end. 
    I finished 8th in the women's field and 11 minutes slower than last year but for me, I won my race.  I didn't make nutritional errors and I didn't make pacing errors.  I ran the best race I could have run on that day.  I've finished first before and not felt this good.  Place is just a matter of who shows up that day.  Knowing I ran my own best race?  For me that's the real prize I'm looking for.
    But Lee, don't you wish you could have won?  Don't you wish you were faster?  Heck yeah I do!!  I have a plan.  I will be training this winter and I will be faster in spring.  Will I share my training plan?  You bet I will.  I will post my training plan shortly.
    Oh, and I won a sword!  Mountain Masochist has a bench press contest at the finish line for finishers.  I did the most reps at 65 pounds (the women's weight), winning the 'Iron Horse' award, which is a short sword with a plaque on it.  For the curious, I managed 47 reps.  Yes, yes I do strength train, though only an hour or so a week.  I will post my strength training routine on this blog soon for the curious. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ongoing War Against Blisters

    If you don't get blisters ever, feel free to skip this.  I used to get blisters especially from racing and I hated it.  I can stay cheerful through all kinds physical difficulties from either end of the GI tract to cramping to late night delusions.  Blisters just *#@#**# tick me off.  I read all sorts of blogs and product reviews during my first year running ultras and I performed all sorts of experiments on myself.  Here's a summary of the things that make a difference for me.

1) The fit of my shoes.  I used to wear my shoes tighter, thinking that I would have more stability and that less movement would mean fewer blisters.  Your shoe will always move on your foot.  The harder it is pressed against the skin the quicker it will generate heat and skin damage so now I wear my shoes looser.  'But Lee, won't that lead to more falls, to rolling your ankles, to your shoes falling off?'  I like stretch bungee laces not only because they prevent me from having to trust in my ability to tie my shoes but also because they have give while still keeping your shoe on your foot.  In an ultra my feet may swell a little over the course of the race.  Almost everyone's do.  I may not notice very quickly or may not want to bend down late in the race to retie my shoes laces (who knows what's going through my head then, but certainly not squatting down and standing back up).  What about a looser shoe making me fall?  If its so loose it can fall off then its too loose.  If loosening your shoe laces or going up just a half size makes you fall on the trails then it is likely that your ankles are weak and that you also are not actually setting your feet down flat (the nervous system can lie to you about this, a blog next month on that topic).  Do lunges with your eyes closed.  Do single leg toe raises.  Will deep mud suck a looser shoe right off my foot?  It's happened. Twice.  It was still lots better than running with blisters and the people running with me had a good laugh as I yelped and hopped around so it was a win-win.  The key thing here I think is to experiment on training runs and see how your feet feel. 
2) Socks matter a whole lot.  I wore cotton socks once.  They ate my feet.  Some of the cheaper synthetics do too.  I like Smartwool, Bridgedale, Balega, and Merrell to name a few.  There are other brands that are similar and good.  I hear a lot of people find happiness with drymax.  For me a thicker sock is better than a thinner one.  The main reason as far as I can tell is that the shoe rubs the sock and there's enough sock there to keep the rubbing from getting through to my skin.  All of these socks perform just as well for me wet as they do dry.  If a thicker running sock makes your shoes too tight consider a shoe with a wider toe box or a half size increase in shoe size. 
3) Lubricating your feet for ultras is a great plan.  I don't bother on training runs because I'm trying to toughen my feet up but training runs aren't generally as long and fast as races either.  What and how much lubrication do I use?  I'm not that picky with the rest of my body, though I really like Body Glide.  For my feet, for an ultra?  Skin Sake.  Its A&D ointment with some other stuff thrown in and is much thicker on the skin than anything else I've tried, even vaseline.  How much?  I coat both feet everywhere my sock covers.  If its the right amount then when I put on my sock and shoe it feels a little bit uncomfortably squishy for the first half mile or so.  I ran an 80 mile mountain race over summer and a 100 miler in September and both involved a lot of water.  I didn't get any blisters at all.  Seriously.   
4) Wet feet are actually good for me.  When I wore my shoes tighter wet feet meant more blisters. With thicker, high quality running socks of the sort mentioned above and with lubrication on the feet (and even without, though the skin sake seems to also keep my feet from turning into prunes after 20 wet hours) wetness seems to just provide extra lubrication and keep the temperature of my skin down.  Surely you've notice the skin feels hot before it blisters?  That a blister from running looks like a burn?  Not entirely coincidental.  Once I sorted out all of the above stuff I found that wet feet ceased to be a problem which is good because you never know what it will do on race day.  What about water proof shoes?   You can try them but expect hot feet.  Also, expect that if you do have to cross a creek (I prefer courses where this is likely because that's the kind of trail race I love most) and water gets over the top of your shoe it will not drain.  No fun at all.  Its also possible for it to rain so much that rain gets into your shoe.  Gamble all you want, if its a race I prefer to sprint right across the creek without worrying about it.  At lower paces and especially in the snow a waterproof shoe may still make sense for some runners.  I just wear all mountain or thick ski socks and older, slightly stretched out shoes.
5) Blisters can be dangerous.  If a blister tears open and then you blister again underneath so that you have gone through most if not all of your skin then you can wind up with a situation as dangerous as a third degree burn.  This has never happened to me (very happily).  In this case infection can set in and spread and turn into cellulitis which can land you in the hospital on IV antibiotics and losing tissue.  First, take your blisters seriously if they are broken.  Keep them clean and covered.  Second, if you are at all nervous about infection but not ready to seek immediate medical intervention then take a pen and draw around the blister, outlining everywhere the skin is red/angry pink.  Keep checking the blister.  If the redness spreads over the line you drew you need antibiotics.  You need them right away.  When you get to the doctor, tell them when you put the line around the redness and how quickly it spread over the line so that they will understand the problem.  I hope this never happens to anyone ever but if it does, its gonna be a whole lot easier to deal with the more quickly you get it treated.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Canadian Death Race (yeah, 2 months ago)

    The Canadian Death Race website describes the course as 125 K (77 miles) with 17,000 feet of elevation gain and it isn't much longer or hillier than that.  The views of from the Canadian Rockies outside Grande Cache, Alberta are fantastic although we didn't see any grizzlies or mountain lions.  My running partner Gabe and I stayed together for the whole race, finishing in 21 hours and change, still able to walk and talk.  We were pretty happy and then the race people told us only ten percent of first time solo runners finish at all and we were even happier and then we very, very hungry.
    The night before the race we stayed in tent-city, which is a public park set aside for racers and crew to camp in since the town of Grande Cache doesn't have anywhere near enough housing to accommodate the influx of thousands of people over the August long weekend.  Why is it 'August long weekend'?  I had no idea either but apparently in Canada there's a long weekend every month.  Seriously. 
    When we stopped to pick up snacks at the grocery store the cashier asked whether we were in town for the race.  The same thing happened at the drug store.  At five in the morning, as we ran back into town toward the finish people cheered from under blankets on a few porches.  The entire town of Grande Cache knows about and supports this race and the residents are interested in whether you're running solo or on a relay team.  Most racers run on relay teams and solo runners are considered brave, tough, and maybe a little crazy.
    We planned for the worst, in terms of race support, because we traveled too far to wind up quitting over gear or aid station problems.  It turned out to be a good decision since the aid stations consisted of four water stops with water and interestingly mixed Gatorade, some granola bars, and some lunch box size fruit cups.  The person staffing each of these was invariable friendly and usually able to tell us which of the two jugs on the table contained plain water.  Everyone was friendly.  Other relay teams we'd met on earlier sections began cheering for us as we came into aid station areas calling out “go Ohio couple”!  We're not a couple but we didn't care, strangers cheering you on feels good. 
    As we were beginning section 2, where the course ascends rapidly for several miles, we met one of the guys on the barefoot team.  Not Vibrams, barefoot.  He did have on a couple layers and a nice race pack and a set of trekking poles.  We jokingly offered to trade him shoes for trekking poles since they seemed to be all the rage.  He laughed and then told us politely that we were absolutely crazy  trying to run the whole course solo without trekking poles.  He was in the rockies barefoot but we were crazy.  Then he took off up the mountain.  On a side note, though, trekking poles do require practice, there were pieces of broken trekking poles along all the steeper descents and abandoned bent poles at aid stations.
    So what else did we learn that could be useful to other people? Creeks that run through peat bogs on mountain saddles in 23 mile aids station gaps are safe to drink out of, its been over two weeks now so I'm sure.  Vega brand orange gel does not appeal to me flavor wise but when I ate the one I found on the trail it sat well in my tummy.  Bring a lot of food and spare electrolytes and Gin-gins if you run this or anything with a whole lot of hill.  All that up and down beats up a number of systems.  Without the Gin-gins I'm not so sure I could have kept nutrition in.  I decline to address rumors that I raced after spending a week on antibiotics for strep throat but I will say that should you ever make such a decision, and should it effect your ability to swallow and should gels get real unappealing, you can squirt a couple into your water bottle and shake it up and it works out pretty well IF they're fruit flavored.
    If you do run this race, look at the time cut offs closely!  If you're not way the heck ahead on the first one or two then you're not going to finish the race.  The time cut offs don't make sense (to me anyhow) but the race tracks runners and splits very well so you can look up the splits for solo runners who finished in previous years to get a better idea of where you need to be when.  Gabe and I made one of the cut offs by less than 45 minutes and we thought we were moving pretty well!  Spend a whole lot of time on deadlifts and hill repeats if you want to get through these kinds of 3-6 mile ascents and descents.  Don't lose the damn coin for the boat near the end (people do, we didn't).  You will get disqualified and removed from the course AFTER running most of it and getting over all three mountains.  They are serious about that, very serious eh.
    Here's some more really helpful, learn from others' mistakes if you can type info; when its late at night and you're tired and low on calories and its getting real cold, put on your rain jacket and zip it up.  During the day, when you're not doing much or when you're rested and fed, you can tell when you're getting hypothermic.  At three in the morning I couldn't really tell, I just thought I was really tired, I just thought if I lay down next to the trail for a few minutes I'd feel much better.  Suddenly I remembered that at pre-race they told us a guy did that and hikers found him on the side of the trail the next day, severely hypothermic, dehydrated and delusional. 
    Nothing waterproof breathes well no matter what the label says, so if you can manage to keep moving, you'll get much warmer in your rain jacket even if its really thin.  I was still tired once I got warm but not sleepy and I suddenly had more interest in running and drinking my water/gel mix.  Set this information in your mind well so you'll remember it because if you're still reading this right now then there's a reasonable chance cold night time running is in your future. 
    The last part of the race that sticks with me, other than the finish, was seeing what I was dreaming as I shuffled along.  I figured out that the huge, black horse wasn't there because nobody would let a ten year old girl go riding at three in the morning and anyhow my headlamp didn't reach that far.  I figured it out all on my own and it entertained the heck out of Gabe when I explained how that proved I was mentally okay but next time I run a race like this I think I'll find a way to get more sleep the night before!