Thursday, October 31, 2013

Going the distance, my first ultra

Earlier this year, i was struggling to find motivation in the stairwell. Last year, I set big goals for myself and accomplished all of them. i won all of the Chicago races and did several international races. I loved all of my experiences but my passion for climbing just wasnt there this year, I was having a hard time coming up with new goals for myself thus wasnt able to devote myself to training as much as i normally would and my lack of passion showed during my races. I’m someone who needs to challenge myself and craves new experiences. I decided to get back into running, I wanted to shoot for a 3:10 marathon and qualify for Boston. I signed up for the Marquette Marathon over Labor Day, i was once again obsessed with long runs and felt like i was back to my endurance roots. I started my taper a few weeks out from Marquette and realized, I didnt want to race it, I wasn’t feeling it, I wanted something more, something longer. The ultramarathon was speaking to me, when I first start running I was engrossed in the idea of doing ultra races. I ran my first Boston in 2007 and decided I wanted to run lots of different marathons first before i started to hit the super long distances. I’ve always considered myself an endurance athlete, loved long runs especially so for me to get hooked on stairs was totally unexpected. Stair races are short and intense so for me to shine in the stairwell the way i did was a surprise and i grew to love the sport. But now, i think i’ve come full circle and i’m back to my endurance roots.

I chose to run the Des Plaines River Trail 50 miler, thought it would be a good starting point since it was relatively flat and nearby plus it was a nice trail. Leading up to the race, i did a few back to back long runs (20-18 and 18-16), i also did one 30 mile training run. Originally i thought it would be good to target 9-10 hours for my first 50, i had no idea what would happen during those 50 miles. one article in Runners World said you could estimate your 50 mile time by doubling your marathon time and adding 2 hours!! my best marathon time is 3:14 but to be conservative i took 3:30 doubled it and added 2 hours so that came out to 9 hours. i still wasnt sure if that would be too aggressive, this was my first 50!!

during my long runs, i slowed down the pace and started taking more water and snacks. usually i deprive myself while running, i try to get by running on fumes but i knew that i’d need a lot more energy during the 50 miler and this was not the time to skimp on calories. i used my 30 mile training run as a race simulation, i wanted to eat a snack every hour and try to stick to race pace. i made some homemade energy bars consisting of almond butter, oatmeal, honey, raisins, flax/chia seeds, and mini chocolate chips. they were delicious! i also enjoy stinger energy gels since theyre basically honey with a boost of electrolytes and the probar chews are super tasty and easy on the stomach too. i also tried bananas with almond butter and honey, another staple i could go to. the 30 miles flew by and i felt great, i had someone to run with the entire way and besides some aching knees, i felt like i had plenty of energy and could keep going although i was a bit loop and slap happy the last 4-5 miles. i ended up averaging 8:48 pace while running and 9:48 pace with the stops to refuel and meet up with new people. that training run gave me some major encouragement for the 50 miler, i decided to shoot for that same pace during the race although i wasnt really sure what that equated to in hours and minutes.

Pintar created a spreadsheet we could use to predict my estimated finishing time along with what time i might be at all of the aid stations along the way. this thing was super helpful, definitely made it easier for my crew, spectators and pacers! I started to kinda freak out the week of the race, although i was tapering, my legs were feeling aching and muscles were tight. I just didnt feel all that great, the taper is much needed but so evil at the same time. i was also feeling some underlying race anxiety and stress even though i felt confident at the same time. i wasnt putting much pressure on myself because it was my very first ultra and i was proud of myself for taking on a new challenge. i set several different goals for myself and various expectations for the race. i was thinking of it more as a really long long run instead of a race.

the night before i packed up my drop bags, i tossed in extra clothes including socks and shoes, snacks, elecrolyte water, my ipod, etc. anything i thought i might need. its hard to know what might come up over the course of 50 milers. i put in my energy bars, some chocolate espresso beans, some sprouted sweet potato chips (in case i was craving salt) and some caffeine pills for an added boost.

the thing about ultramarathons is that theyre much more relaxed than road marathons and shorter races. you have aid stations stocked with various snacks such as PB&J, defizzed soda, pretzels, bananas, gels, water, etc. Runners are friendly, talkative and encouraging to one another. it was going to be a brand new experience and i was ready for it.

**Race Day**

the race started at 7:00 AM, i was somewhat freaking out about the weather because the low was in the 30s and the high in the mid-low 50s which is ideal running weather but i didnt know how my body would react to running all day in that weather! i thought i would probably get chilled but at least the sun was expected to poke out, i decided to go with capris and tossed some shorts in my drop bags in case i got too warm. i was also layering up with a tank w pockets for added storage, a short sleeve shirt and a long sleeve. i could easily peel off layers if i got to warm. Brady and I got to the race around 6 AM and it was quite chilly and still pitch dark out so we hung out in the car to stay warm. its quite eerie heading into a porta potty when you cant see anything. we finally got out of the car around 6:45 and headed towards the start, they gave us some final instructions and it was time to toe the line. At this point , after standing outside for 15 minutes my hands and toes were numb, great way to start the race...
**Miles 0 - 14.4**

We started off and it was strange not darting off the starting line, it was a smooth relaxed pace. i settled in the first couple of miles and starting chatting with another girl (the girl in green) and a few guys who were running the same pace. they were all ultra veterans and had finished the race last year, the girl in green placed 2nd with a time around 8:20 and the guys finished around 8:40 so i figured they would make good running partners at least for the time being. i continued to stay relaxed as the miles ticked by, time was cruising by. i kept getting little rocks in my shoes. i knew that in a race of this magnitude, little nagging things can turn into big things if you ignored them so i was stopping constantly to pluck the rocks out. i was looking forward to the 3rd aid station around 7.9 miles because Brady would be there and Lisa (my first pacer of the day) was going to jump in and run 4 miles with me. At that point, i was still running in the little pack and it was nice to have Lisa run with us for a few miles, the miles were still flying by. Lisa left us 4 miles later and we continued on our way, i stopped briefly at the aid stations to refuel my bottle and eat a snack if it was my “designated” snack time. i actually almost missed my first snack because of all the chatting going on and i was barely looking at my watch. I found it easier to unwrap my snacks and chew them while refilling my bottle instead of doing it on the go. the aid station volunteers were awesome, they’d fill my bottle for me and ask if there was anything else we needed. some folks would breeze by the stops while others would linger a bit longer loading up and taking a break. i was feeling good but then again, i should be feeling good considering it had only been about 12 miles at about 9 minute pace give or take.
the first drop bag zone was about 14.4 miles in, the 5th aid station. i knew brady would be waiting for me there so i was counting down the miles. before the race, i told myself that if it started to get rough, i only had to think about making it to the next aid station and the furthest that would be was 6.7 miles (between 14.4 and 21.1 and then on the way back 31.7 to 38.4). i was excited to see brady and was still feeling great, my knees were aching, which was nothing new but otherwise no major issues. Brady filled up my water, the only problem with the water from the aid stations is that it was cold!!! thus my hand would get cold carrying my bottle, good thing i had my gloves. i prefer room temp water, i had electrolyte water in my drop bag but forgot about it, I was also taking an elecrolyte tab every hour too. I came into the aid station at the same time as the girl in the green but she scurried off to go to the bathroom, i wasnt sure whether or not she was still around and i hesitated as to whether or not i should wait for her. i think my mind was set on, hey you have a friend to run with which will make this more enjoyable instead of hey, youre in a race, stop dilly dallying and get going!! brady told me to head out so i said goodbye and was on my way. my watch hit the next split and i did some quick math, i probably spent about 4 minutes there. 
**Miles 14.4 - 21.1**
i ran the next few miles solo which was kinda lonely, i passed a couple of people and then caught up to the girl in the green a few miles later. both of us said we were happy to see one another and we got back into the groove. during those few lonley miles, i picked up the pace a bit and hit an 8:34 mile. around mile 19 or 20, the girl in the green asked what kidna pace we might end up with at the finish. i was like i have no idea, i cant even think about that now since theres still 30 miles to go!! i figured once i hit the turnaround, i could let myself do a rough estimate on my finishing time. but i didnt wanna think too far into the future, just wanted to take it one mile at a time. 

the next aid station was at mile 21.1 and i was expecting to see brady, melanie & pete with the dogs plus my parents. but before that, i found my dad waiting beside the path somewhere around mile 20. he started running ahead of me and i was like hey dad!! he kept on running, finally caught up to him and settled into a pace. he made a comment about how it seemed like we were running pretty quick, we probably clipped off an 8:45. it was a pleasant surprise to have him waiting there for me. we were coming up to the aid station and icould spot the dogs first, i was really excited to see everyone and melanie had some really clever signs which made me laugh and brought a smile to my face, one said “i drove < 50 to see kfrey run 50”, love it! i stopped to fill up my water and to eat a bar, i saw my mom running over and i was like sorry, gotta go! 
**Turnaround - 26.4**
the next stop would be the turn around at 26.4 mles, by then i wouldve ran a marathon. during the race, i kept see the same people. i’d pass someone then they’d pass me, some people were doing a walk run. everyone was really friendly and conversational, always complimenting eachother as we passed asking how the other was doing and offering a few words of encouragements. i asked one guy if he was doing a walk run, he said 5:00 run, 1:00 walk and that he found it to work better than running 30 miles straight. interesting tactic and ive heard that before. i could tell that i was getting a bit dehydrated, i was running out of water sooner than expected between the rest stops and this was the long segment (6.7 miles). my breathing was a bit more rapid which happened during the 30 miler so i could tell i was getting a bit tired and needed some water and snacks, i also made a mental note to inform brady about how i was feeling. we turned the corner to head to the turn around point and i checked my watch, 26.2 - 4:03! not a bad marathon time. i told myself i would leave the stop by 4:10 and be on my way, once i left, i’d double my time to estimate a projected finish. i found brady, my parents and melanie and pete waiting for me. brady had already filled up my pink water bottle, i was switching it out in hopes it would give me a mental boost. i also changed my shirts, put on 2 orange layers and tossed the bright pink long sleeve on over them. orange is my favorite color so thought it might give me strength and power when i needed it, simple but little things can make a difference when youre out there running for hours on end. i took a bite of a banana but it really wasnt doing it for me, the texture and taste just didnt appeal to me. i also took a caffeine pill for an extra jolt of energy. i chugged some water, brady had already packed my handheld with a couple of snacks. i was pretty flustered at this time and i think brady could tell i was frazzled, i was a bit on edge and kinda loopy but i was still feeling really good and didnt have any negative thoughts. one of the volunteers was introduced to me before the race and knew it was my first 50, she was encouraging at a few of the other stops but at this one she said “wow, youre going really fast for your first 50!!”, i replied, “thanks, i feel really good” then she said “youre going really fast and its your first race, its not a compliment”. gee thanks lady!! i dont need your negative energy and you know nothing about me and my athletic achievements or what im capable of. i let her comment roll off my shoulder and didnt let it get to me, i had more important things to think about. in the midst of everything, i forgot to load up on more snacks. i had 2 in my handheld but forgot to toss extras in the pocket of my shirt, i originally started off carrying extra honey gels and some chews in case i needed them. somewhere around mile 23-24, i actually pulled out a honey stinger because i could sense that i was running a bit low on energy.

**Miles 26.4 - 31**

 i finally took off and realized i had spent about 10 minutes at the station, i saw some people were still there so they were taking longer but it was just more time than i expected but at the same time, i think i needed it. at that point, i also grabbed my ipod, an added motiviational treat! i had a burst of energy after i left the stop and was cruising along. i ate one of my snacks but knew i was running low. my dad ran a mile or so with me again, i enjoyed his company. the race had thinned out and i was no longer with a pack, i was running solo. it also got really chilly, windy and kinda rainy. i pulled my sleeves down, put the gloves back on and put my head down to power through it. i said outloud for the rain to go away and it didnt last long, power of positivity. i checked my total time around 30 miles (another milestone to estimate fmy inishing time) and i was almost at the exact same time i was at during my training run (4:45ish)!! i reached the next aid station at mile 31 (the same crew was there) and was super frazzled. i needed snacks and i needed them bad, my energy was dropping. i asked brady where my stuff was and he was like umm, i dont know in the car. i was like i need something!! i frantically asked my parents and melanie but nobody had anything, it was all in the car. my dad started to run back and i was like forget it, i dont have time. the aid station volunteers offered up powerbar gels but i knew i couldnt take those because they would give me cramps almost instantly. they had PB&J but i just looked at them, i just wasnt thinkiing straight at the turnaround (when i forgot to grab extra stuff) and i was too frazzled to find a solution here. i got impatient and i ran away, big mistake.
**Miles 31 - 38**

about a mile later, i ate my snack and then i knew i was in trouble. i was almost out of water and my snacks were gone, i still had about 6 miles until the next aid station at mile 38.8 where my drop bag and my running concierge service (i.e., Rob, Dan and Brad) were waiting to run 6 miles with me. i really started dragging, my energy levels were dipping extremely low and i just couldnt handle the consistent pace i had kept until that point in the race. i could see the girl in green and another girl or 2 in front of me. i actually pased one of them and then she’d pass me, we went back and forth like that for a mile or two. i started to walk, i just couldnt keep running. during any other race, this wouldve been disheartening and extremely discouraging but i knew that this was normal during ultras and that i would still be ok. i started to walk for a minute or two, i would pick a spot, like a certain tree or rock and would start running again. i forced myself to make it to the next mile before i could start walking again. my splits dropped from 9:00 to 10-11. but i wasnt discouraged, i stayed postivie and told myself to be strong, that i would make it through and that it would be better once i reached the aid station, could load up on snacks and water and would have pacers for 6 miles. i actaully felt like i had more energy when i’d start running after a walking break but that was short lived. my knees were no longer aching but my quads were taking a pounding, i could feel them tightening up and getting sore. starting to run after the walk break was a bit rough, it took a few steps to get going. everytime i started feeling a bit down, one of my power songs would come blasting through my headphones, the first to come on was Roar by Katy Perry, shortly thereafter i heard Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. awesome that they came on exactly when i needed them to and gave me a burst of confidence; i’d actually pick up the pace and hang on for longer.

i weeved into the 38 mile aid station a bit out of it and saw the guys (Dan, Rob & Brad) waiting there. i told them i was crashing bad and needed snacks. brady was nowhere to be found (i later found out that he got there early, grabbed some snacks and ran back along the course to try and find me a few miles sooner but took a wrong turn and ended up missing me). the guys were awesome, they pulled out my snacks, got my water and said they’d carry things with them. the chewies tasted delicous now, i was craving carbs and i popped a few chocolate espresso beans. Rob said he’d never seen me eat so much. i changed my socks and shoes, i had to lean on the guys, felt like a cripple. i couldnt bend over and honestly i was afraid to try because i didnt wanna cramp up or fall over. i lost my balance a few times during that shoe exchange.

**Miles 38 - 44.9**
we left the aid station and they let everyone else know we were on our way. brady was getting a bit worried because he wasnt sure where i was or if he had missed me so was pleased to hear the guys were taking good care of me. i’d have them with me for 6 miles and it was awesome having them there to take my mind off of things and to carry my supplies so i had constant water and snacks. dan was the designated water carrier and brad handed me snacks. i asked him to calculate the pace i needed for the next 12 miles to finish under 9 hours, he estimated i needed 15 minute miles. that seemed doable unless something totally bad and unexpected happened but i should be able to walk that pace and finish up. i took a few more walking breaks, especially up any inclines that appeared. on the way out, i ran all these inclines but on the way back, they seemed much larger and took more energy. i also walked to eat snacks, seemed easier that way. it took me a few miles to regain my energy but the guys knew i was getting my kick back when i started singing “what does the fox say”. i tossed this song on my ipod because i knew it would make me laugh and provide some comic relief which it did.

 my dad jumped in with us again, somewhere around 41 or so. we had a nice little pack going on, we approached the aid station at mile 42 and i just flew on through since we had everything i needed. brady still wasnt there, he was struck in traffic along the way. Stronger came on again around then and i picked up the pace without warning, we were back to running close to 9:00 pace and i was feeling better. my quads were still feeling it, i was pretty sure my left quad was going to fall off and the right one was hanging on by a thread as well. up until then, i didnt have too many other issues. i was surprised the knee pain had subsided and my calf felt fine, no hip problems. all in all, i was holding up pretty well. my arm wasnt cramping from the water bottle either which was a plus. during my 30 miler i carried the 20 oz bottle and my arm couldnt handle it, haha so i was back to the little 10 ouncer. at some point during those 6 miles, i had some shooting pain in my shin which seemed to come out of nowhere, i pushed it out of my mind recalling a section from Scott Jurek’s book where he says “not all pain is significant”. i kept on running, ignoring the pain and staying strong and positive. every now and again i’d have the guys estimate my finishing time. they were shocked how strong i was running when we approached the next aid station. 

**Miles 44.9 - 50!!**
Barb was waiting for us there, mile 44.9. Brady was also there along with greg smith. they were going to run the last 5 miles with me. brady was thrilled that i was doing so well and decided to jump in with me, wearing his jeans and all. i was shocked because he was still feeling banged up from dominating the chicago marathon a week earlier (with a PR of 3:11) and wasnt planning to run with me at all. we ran for a few minutes as a big pack then they exited the course, i said thanks and i had 5 miles to go. i jokingly told brady that i had over an hour to run 5 miles to finished under 9 hours. he didnt comprehend that i was joking and pretty much saying i had it all wrapped up and would do it easily. as the miles ticked by, i kept estimating my pace. i walked a few times during those last few miles to eat snacks and gain energy going up the hills. with 2 miles to go, i knew i had to dig deep and stay fierce and focused. i was almost there and was still feeling pretty good. we picked up the pace a bit and i hit a mile around 9:00. saw my dad waiting by a bridge to run the last mile or so with us. i powered up the little hill and started to pick up the pace. with a mile to go, i really had to push it. i was running a killer time and wanted to finish with a kick. i wanted to tell brady i was working and pushing myself as hard as i could but i think it could see it in my face. i could see the finish and i started sprinting, i gave it all i had and according to my watch finished in 8:15:55 (8:16 chip timing but thats ok). i also finished 6th women and 1st in my age group.  and i got the sub 9 hour belt buckle i was shooting for!!

**Post 50**

i was shocked, i totally blew away my expectations and felt like i crushed my first attempt at an ultra. i was so happy and i knew that i couldnt have done it without all my friends and family coming to support me along the way. it meant a lot to me to have them out there along the course either cheering or running with me. and brady was there the whole entire day!! 
my legs locked up when i finished, i was toast. my quads were the worst, everything else was sore too, i couldnt even bend over to put some pants on. my arms, my abs, my back, everything was sore plus i had a giant bruise on my shin. i was walking around slowly but i was still smiling. i had a smile on my face almost the entire time although im sure it was a little less during the energy crash from 32-38. i cant say that i’ve smiled that much for any other race. this was such an incredible experience and i loved it, i cant wait to challenge myself again and get faster. im already planning other ultras, brady and i are gonna target a trail 50k in the san francisco area on my 30th birthday. then i’ll probably do the ice age 50 in may and another 50 in the fall. im obsessed and totally motivated. this is exactly what i needed to get me going again. 
i got in the car and looked at the giant bruise on my shin, what the heck?!? i didnt fall or hit it on anything but i do recall the sharp shooting pain. honestly, i wasnt sure what had happened, i thought maybe my shin was broken or a stress fracture and was fearing the worst. i was exhausted but could barely sleep that night, my legs were so sore and twitchy plus i was starting to get a cold making it hard to breathe. after tossing and turning, i got up to read and finally fell asleep on the couch. sunday morning we were up bright and early (5 am) to head to springfield to watch brady’s sister in laws first marathon, being crammed in a car for 6 hours total was not ideal. i could barely get in and out, i was still exhausted and walking was slow and painful. my quads were totally obliteraterd but at least the rest of my body was a little less sore. my shin was still bright red and sore and my ankle was tight and having sharp pains. i was a complete mess plus that cold was starting to nag. i googled that shin bruise and it seemed somewhat common, some broken cappillaries and blood vessels from the pounding of running, strange but glad i wasnt broken. trying to sleep sunday night wasnt much better, i was still tossing and turning, couldnt breathe and my legs were throbbing. as far as recovery goes, it was still a bit hard to move around on monday, i was super sluggish at work. i was exhausted and had the nagging cold almost the whole week but at least my legs are getting better day by day. i’ll probably give myself another few days to a week of rest before i start running again, wanna make sure im fully recovered from this and prevent injuries.

**Lessons Learned**

** trails and ultras let me really enjoy running, took in my surroundings and just loved being out there, smiling throughout the race and felt free

** find your power song and mantra - my songs are Stronger & People Like Us by Kelly Clarkson and Roar by Katy Perry.  My mantra is strong & positive, fierce & focused
** bulk up my arms so im capable of carrying the 20 oz bottle without my arm flaking out

** when changing shoes during the race, have a new pair to wear. i busted out some old ones that were almost at their peak, didnt feel all that great and probably caused my feet to be sore/tired and the shin bruise

** not sure if i should cut down time at aid stations, hard to know if i wouldve been faster or if the extra rest gave me an extra boost. i was only 6 minutes behind first place!!

** make sure to stock up on extra snacks, think about things before rushing off
** better recovery, probably not the best idea to get up uber early and be crammed in a car for 6 hours the next day
** liked changing clothes at the turn around, wasnt as sweaty and chilled then plus gave a mental boost. 
** music is definitely motivating, enjoyed having it the last 24 miles, gives added motivation instead of having it the whole way


  1. It's amazing vow versatile you are are an athlete. Setting the record at 10 minute stair climbs, then crushing your first ultra.