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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Des Plaines River Trail 50 Mile: Sandbagging Ourselves

Honest to goodness, we had no intention of doing anything even remotely surprising during Saturday's race, the Des Plaines River Trail Races 50 Mile.  Good friends, and co-crew members at Badwater 2010, Ed Kelly and Terry Madl race direct this little shindig, in its second year now, and we were psyched to see the guys and to get in one final extra long training run before the JJ100 taper began.  Once the final price break deadline came and went, we went back and forth about whether or not we run it, or volunteer.  When push came to shove, we decided it would be a most excellent day on the trails and the best way to get a reading on how our training has come along. 

Turns out our training has gone better than we thought (oooo, foreshadowing!).

The race starts in Lincolnshire, IL with a short little out-and-back (~2 miles) heading south, then heads north along the Des Plaines River Trail into Gurnee, IL turns around and finishes where we started.  Geof and I had only ever been on the trail once before, in Libertyville (a section we did end up running through during the race), and it was on the coldest, most depressing-looking day in Illinois history.  Easily.  And the trail was covered in ice and wintery crap.  So we didn't have a good feel for what the trail would be like or how it would look. 

Turns out the DPRT is a gleaming little gem of a trail!

The race started at 7:00 a.m., just as the sun was making its first appearance.  The ground was covered in a blanket of frost and our shoes squeaked as we shuffled across a grassy area to the starting line.  Brrr, it was friggin' cold!  But that wouldn't last long.
The 50 mile start...you can see the frost in the grass...Photo: Bill Thom

There was also a marathon and half marathon that would start later in the morning, but for the time being we had the trail all to ourselves.  I'm not sure how many peeps started, but 55 fine folks finished the deed when it was all said and done.  Zach Gingerich was the early (and correct) pick for the win, and he didn't disappoint with a blazing 5:37:17 finish.  In case you don't want to do the math, that's an average pace of 6:44/mile...for 50 miles.  That makes me want to yak just thinking about holding that pace for that long.  He looked cool and comfortable both times we saw him. 

Anywho, there's a short little out and back to the south that you run before heading north for the day so that the mileage comes out to a little over 50 miles.  We started in back, chatting with a couple peeps, then gradually worked our way up by mile 2 or 3.  Ahh, we had the trail to ourselves...and that was pretty much how it was much of the day.  We passed some folks early on that we thought we'd get passed by later on but that never did come to fruition.  In fact, we managed to hold onto our 8th and 9th place pretty much the entire day, and others came and went.  It's cool to look at the splits and see how grossly consistent we were throughout the day.  We slowed a smidge on the way back, but that was expected.  Otherwise, we were like a pair of metronomes out there :)

The trail was gorgeous.  Did I mention that?  All the leaves were bright yellow and explosively colorful once the sun came out for good and burst through the forest canopy.  The trail was probably 40% exposed, 60% forest cover.  Maybe less, maybe more.  The exposed sections were just as lovely and the sun felt so good on the face and arms :)  It warmed up into the 60s and I was able to remove my long sleeve shirt somewhere after the turnaround.  The terrain is crushed limestone, so I was very thankful for having thought to unearth my gaiters for the first time all year.  The trail is also very, very, VERY flat.  There were two inclines where we thought to walk, but only because we would have killed for an excuse to walk.  There are a few minor road crossings, but most of the time the trail goes underneath the roads, so we were nearly uninterrupted.  

We were clucking along all fine and dandy, having clipped into a comfortable pace after the first 10 miles or so.  My glutes and hams felt fatigued pretty early on, but they never got any worse.  It was like they just wanted to cut to the chase and settle into their low level discomfort for the day early on.  So that gave me plenty of time to get comfortable with the discomfort.  That's a big battle in 100 mile races...getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Somewhere before we hit double digit miles, though, we came to an aid station that Adrian Belitu and Maria Clementi were manning.  Very excited to see them, it's been awhile!  Adrian announced I was second woman, to which Geof shouted behind us as we took off, "don't encourage her!" :-)

I knew I was in second, but I didn't really care this time.  Like I said, I wasn't out there to do anything surprising; I was merely out for a long training run.  So, I let it be.  And that felt good.

There were mile markers for the first 15 or so miles, to cater to the short distances, but it was fun to use the markers to calculate splits and to otherwise occupy the mind.  Somewhere near the 14-15 mile mark, we came upon the first place woman standing alongside the trail, futzing with her stuff.  We said hello as we passed by, and for the few minutes that followed I let myself fantasize about running in first place :)  But then she caught up to us and proceeded to do something very odd...  The trail is a very wide, multi-use trail.  As in, you could conceivably run four across, comfortably.  But this chick decides she's gotta have some Dunmore.  Geof and I run side by side, leaving plenty of room to the left to pass.  She was literally so close that if either of us moved our legs or feet slightly differently she would have stepped on our heels and down we all would have gone.  If there hadn't been a breeze, I probably would have been able to feel her breath on my back.  Um, WTF?  And she was breathing heavy, slapping her feet with each footstrike.  Was this supposed to be some sort of intimidation tactic?  It wasn't working; it just made me want to throw an elbow up behind me.  But instead, Geof and I just held tight where we were and figured she'd pass.  She wouldn't pass.  We held our pace, not pushing anything.  And she continued on our heels.  Geof eventually stepped a little to the left and she took that moment to step between us, run a few strides beside me, then take off.  She must be new to ultrarunning.  That was some BS.  Who does that?  She was moving very strong and that was the last we saw of her until the turn around.  That was bad trail etiquette on her part.  But, whatev, we have much bigger fish to fry :)  Even if we didn't, I'm not sure I could have kept up with her.  She totally smoked us, finishing almost 40 minutes ahead of us, LOL!

In any event, we continued on our merry way, sticking to our comfortable pace and reaching the 26.4 mile turn around in 3:47.  Perfect.  I had "budgeted" four hours for the first half and only stocked enough fuel in my waist pack to cover that.  At the turn around, we had our longest stop of the day, maybe a few minutes.  I changed into my Wildcats as my La Sportiva Quantums don't breathe very well and my feet were really sweaty (I think I'll reserve the Quantums for really cold days).  We pounded a Starbucks Doubleshot each, resupplied my Honey Stinger Waffles and Geof's Gu's and then headed out of there.  It took a mile or so for my feet to get used to the feel of my beloved Wildcats...they are much less cushiony and have a thinner upper than the Quantums, but they felt oh so good!  My feet could air out now, and they weren't rubbing the fresh blister on my right foot.

We continued on, business as usual.  Taking in the beautiful fall scenary, loving the warm sun on our skin, marveling as a couple different freight trains whooshed by us...those things are HUGE when you're down below them!  I giggled like a little kid, loving the rush it gave us as they flew past. 

The aid station volunteers were wonderful.  We only stopped at a couple stations on the way out (there were 15 total), but stopped more frequently on the way back to refill our water bottles.  I was pretty thirsty and making sure to keep on top of my water.  That meant I needed to pee more often :)  There was an awesome bathroom just before the 50k mark that we stopped in and I relished washing my hands.  It's the little things in life.  We farted around a minute there so Geof could empty his shoes and I stretched my glutes.  We hit the 50k mark, and I looked down at my watch...a 50k PR, sweet!  We covered the first 31 miles in 4:54, and after working some fuzzy calculations in my head at that point, I realized we would likely break 8:30 for the day.  But, I didn't want to get ahead of myself.  That's not what we were out there for.

Much of the rest of the race was very uneventful, which is always a good thing in these races.  We stayed very, very comfortable, never pushing the pace.  We walked in a few spots to eat or change up the movement, stopped to refill our bottles at Adrian's aid station, and found some more awesomely familiar faces there, too.  What a great day, filled with great peeps!  We were now in single digits, and the next aid station we were looking forward to seeing Brian, Kelly and Caleb.  I was feeling the cumulative miles and time in my legs and was now having to work a little to maintain our pace, but that was fine by me, we were almost done! 

With three miles to go we pulled into Brian's aid station, goo-goo gaa-gaa'd with baby Caleb, caught up on Kelly's race (she ran the 1/2 marathon; her first race since having Caleb!), and then we were off.  I noticed we were just a little over 7 hours in with only three miles to go.  This was in the bag. 

Apparently, my calculations had been off...we weren't just going to go sub-8:30...we were going to go sub-8:00 even if we walked the rest of it!  Buy why walk when you can run :)

I started to feel really excited, and Geof was feeling the pull as well.  We passed the "1 mile to go" sign and we picked it up to kick it in strong, crossing the finish line in 7h:43m:47s, in 8th and 9th place overall.  I snagged 2nd woman overall, and Geof was 7th male overall.  Hot Damn!

Crossing the finishline...totally bamboozled!  Photo: Bill Thom

We pretty much sandbagged ourselves.  Where did that come from?  We didn't even really work for it, we just ran nice and easy.  Bill Thom, of RunRace.net, congratulated us on our run and marveled at our finish time.  "Yea, but it's a flat course..." to which Bill replied, "Yes, but you still covered the distance; 50 miles is 50 miles!"  Hmmm, good point.  I find myself often defaulting to that thought when considering courses and finish times.  Why?  I don't know, but I do know I need to change my thought process on that because it's totally lame :)  It's pretty awesome to know that I can more or less run 50 miles, and run it well.  That gives me a lot of confidence going into JJ100, which is now two and a half weeks away, holy smokes! 

We were both pretty sore the next day in spots we aren't usually sore due to how much more running we did.  By Tuesday we felt pretty fresh again, but I held off until this morning to go for a run.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good everything felt today.  Except for one pesky little shit of a blister on my left big toe.  Nothing a little lambs wool wrapped around it can't fix :) 

Picking up the September issue of Ultrarunning magazine on Monday evening, I read Tia's editorial for the first time in awhile, and boy was it timely.  The topic focused on how different ultrarunning has become and how we automatically default to thinking harder courses are the "real" ultras and easier courses...don't count.  She wondered why being able to RUN a fast time on what is considered an "easy" course is somehow less of an achievement than hiking/running a slower time on a "tough" course.  Ultrarunning is all about being able to RUN long distances was pretty much what I took away from her short write-up.  I was a little surprised by just how timely reading that article was, especially since we've had that issue since August and I'm just now getting around to reading it :) 

So that was a pretty awesome experience, and one heck of a 50 mile PR for both of us...again. What a year! I was extremely content to let our 8:35 PR stand for a good long while. I had no illusions whatsoever of getting a PR on this day. It just sort of...happened. So, I'll let that 7:43 stand for a good long while :)

Sub-9 hour finisher's buckle

I'm super stoked for how everything went, and how even-keeled my mood and stomach were.  I am now really, really looking forward to JJ100, and really, really happy with our training this time around.  What a difference a training plan makes!!

Paige, out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Humble Beginnings

I don't know what exactly stirred up this particular trip down memory lane.  Maybe it was the crisp fall air with that hint of urban leaf decay floating in the air, or the runner who whooshed past me.  Fall always reminds me of it.

It was my freshman year of high school, and I finally decided to join the track team.  Fall 1995.  The cross country season had just ended and indoor track was about to begin.  My friends convinced me to join.  You didn't have to 'try out' for track at my school, you just had to show up :)  Tryouts for the pom squad weren't until January, and I had some free time on my hands.  So I...showed up.

I started out running with the sprinters for some reason.  It was quite the sight.  I was barely 5 feet tall, skinnier than a stalk of asparagus, and nearly translucent after a summer of avoiding the sun.  Everyone else was exceptionally tall, muscular, healthy looking, and FAST.  But, I wanted to try it.  I wanted to be FAST like the others. 

I hated every bleeping minute of it.  And, I was so not fast.

I could not for the life of me figure out the starting blocks. 

These should be called Death Blocks...

I constantly fumbled with them, tripped, fell a few times, and was always, always the last one out of their block.  And trying to run fast after starting from a near-kneeling position was ridiculously hard for me.  I approached them with the same level of apprehension that I approach getting off of ski lifts.  Gripped with the fear of a thousand hells. 

But I kept after it in that arena, and after a few weeks I found my calling.  It just wasn't where I thought I needed to look. 

Our warm-up was a two mile run to Taylor Park and back (one mile each way).  Every single time I made it back before the rest of the sprinting team, and ready for more.  All the other girls came back gasping and worn out.  Coach D suggested I practice with the distance team for a couple of days and see what I thought.  Coach D scared me.  He was a stoic and critical man.  So any way to escape his critical eye was a most welcome escape.  The next day, I was with the distance team, working with a wonderful woman of a coach.  I can't believe I don't remember her name...but I remember what she looks like and how kind and welcoming she was to me.  I was instantly hooked.  Of course, it now meant workouts were longer, more difficult and I was never the first person back from a warm-up :)  Speed workouts, fartleks (hehe, fart...lek...), hill repeats, funny stretches (which I still do to this day), striders, and best of all, no starting blocks! 

I wore some chunky Reeboks with a bright purple and silver whoosh on the side.  I saved up my babysitting money and allowances to purchase these coveted running shoes, and at $40 it nearly cleaned me out.  My how times have changed.  I was just glad to not have to wear the godawful clumsy Asics my parents bought for me from a sidewalk sale at the Competitive Foot in downtown Oak Park.  They were two sizes too big and looked geriatric.  But, all the other girls wore spikes on the track.  So, I still managed to look geriatric next to them, in my Reeboks ;)

I started and finished every workout gasping for air.  The cool and damp autumn air stung my lungs.  My quads always itched from the wind burn, and my sides always cramped.  I loved it.  I often wondered why we did all our workouts outside for indoor track... 

We had to set a goal for ourselves to reach by the end of the season, at the conference finals (assuming you were invited to run).  I desperately wanted a six minute mile...I just wasn't very good at initiating an action plan.  But, I set that incredibly arbitrary goal (I had no idea what I was even capable of at that point) in stone one afternoon as we did a core workout using playing cards off to the side of the indoor track in the field house.   It smelled heavily of rubber and sweat.  The sound of squeaky shoes on the basketball court echoed around the cavernous room.  The boys' track team was gathering opposite where we were, gearing up for their workout.  We were running to Concordia University a few miles away, doing some 800 meter sprints around their track, and then running back for a cool down.  Colleen ran beside me the entire way there.  She was a senior varsity runner, and she taught me how to run softly, how to roll my foot from heel to toe, rather than slapping.  I think of that conversation almost every time I run.  It is funny the things that stick with us. 

I worked hard during practice, but I never ran outside of practice for some reason.  At least not that year.  I ran the 800 and the 1600 in various conferences and track meets, garnering modest times, but never coming close to winning any.  I looked on in awe at the girls running the 3200.  I wished so bad that I wanted to race that far!  But I didn't for some reason.  I only enjoyed practicing longer distance; I didn't actually want to race those distances.  Again, how times have changed :)

The conference finals rolled around and I was invited to run in the 1600 meter event.  It was at Hinsdale Central.  My dad showed up to watch.  It was cold, and a slight drizzle came down off and on throughout the meet.  Nora offered me her spikes for my event.  She could tell how much I wanted a pair.  She was running the 3200 and there was plenty of time between our two events.  I was downright giddy!  They were a size or so too small for me, but what did I know?  I jammed my feet into those gorgeous Nike spikes and lined up at the start with a smile so big I could have floated out of there.  There were nine other girls on either side of me, and I glanced around to see what my competition looked like.  I felt like one of them.  A girl in a green uniform shook my hand and wished me luck.  With the gun, we were off. 

I don't recall much of the actual event, but I do remember how much it hurt.  My feet ached, jammed uncomfortably into those spikes.  My lungs burned as they always did running on cold days.  Each time around the track I saw my dad standing there, umbrella in hand, waving and smiling.  The tank top and shorts of my uniform were sticking to my skin as the drizzle picked up into a light rain.  As I rounded the final curve and eyed the finish line, the girl in the green uniform caught up to me.  We ran neck-and-neck, but she nudged her head forward as we crossed the line.  She totally beat me.  I felt so ripped off.  But, that was quickly disbursed as I was told my finishing time.  A 6:09 mile, good enough for 8th.  Not quite my 6 minute mile, but considering my previous best had been an 8 minute mile, I was pretty damn happy :)  I just couldn't believe I came so close.

Coach D came over and congratulated me.  I was stunned to say the least.  He said he wanted to tell me 'I told you so', that he knew I'd be a good distance runner.  My dad walked up to us and shook Coach D's hand, "every time I watch her around the track, all I see are those blue shorts and legs for days.  She's a distance runner!" boasted Coach D.  The giddiness in my dad's voice, and the look on his face made me immeasurably happy. 

I never did go back to the track team after that season.  I made it onto the pom squad that January and never looked back.  But obviously I was bitten.  I enjoyed shedding the structure and rigor of the team and just going out for runs as I pleased.  I do love looking back on that season, though.  I learned a lot of things that have stuck with me through the years.  Ah, such humble beginnings.

But, I still can't use a starting block properly ;) 

Paige, out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Big Mileage, No Whammies!

So, I did it :) 

I ran a big mileage week...and, it felt pretty good!  Well, it's big mileage for me, anyway.  I know I'm just hitting the tip of the big mileage iceberg, but you have to start somewhere.

I kept glancing at Week 11 on my training spreadsheet with equal parts apprehension, and giddy excited curiosity.  Week 11 held me by the ankles.  It forecast a 70 mile training week...no races, no group runs, just plain and simple running.  Gettin' 'er done type running.  No matter which side of the bed, so to speak, I woke up on, it was time to run. 

I won't lie.  I'm tired as all getout, but it's a cool kind of tired.  Like, I did something.  I like it anyhow :)

It went pretty well.  I came in just under 40 miles for the week after Friday morning's run, then we headed out to Palos on Saturday morning to do our long run and finish the job.  Geof cranked out his 40 miles and I did a little over 32 miles before calling it a day.  That's the longest long run I've ever done (not including a race) in training for a 100 miler.  And, it was at the end of a big mileage week for me.  It felt pretty good getting that notch drilled into the ol' training belt :)  Everything felt the same as usual, except that I noticed I was exceptionally tired, and my ankles were creakier than normal.  That's about it.  Saturday morning my body felt ready to tackle the task at hand, but mentally I was dangling.

Maybe that's the thing about big training miles; it's more of a mental juggernaut than it is a physical one.  Which is amazingly apropos when it comes to this ultrarunning thing.  But, I'm guessing one can adapt to it pretty well over time.  I, however, am loving my step-back week this week, and grateful for the mental break.  When I saw 50-something miles on tap I was overjoyed.  Downright deliriously thrilled!  Next week is one more big mileage push, so I'm going to revel in my 'baby' miles this week :)

Geof and I got 90 minute deep tissue massages last night to work out some training kinks.  Um, wow.  We left there completely mentally fogged and feeling as though we were literally floating.  My body felt weightless and rubbery.  They could have told us they were selling us into slavery when they were done and we would have been cool with it.  We were THAT relaxed.  "Right on, dude." 

Can an amazing massage be considered a drug?  It should be labeled: Warning: Mind-altering manual techniques will cause happiness and relaxation, and may be addictive.  Proceed at your own risk.  Okay, maybe not, but seriously it was the best massage I have EVER had.  We will both be back.

Speaking of weightless, the winner of the 2011 Chicago Marathon, Moses Mosop, appeared pretty weightless on his way to a CR 2:05:35...

We rode around on our bikes catching the front fasties at as many spots as we could.  It was hard to keep up, even with bikes!  We caught Mosop bustin' his move in the final 800 meters here.  He looked cool as a cucumber.

And now back to our regularly scheduled step-back week, Week 12...

Paige, out.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Running is My Alibi

Run, run, run, work, eat, sleep, repeat as directed. 

That's pretty much the skinny for the next few weeks.  It's October (holy eff!) and we're in the midst of Week 11 of JJ100 training.  It's coming along quite nicely.  Last Saturday, we headed up to the Kettle Moraine once again for our long run, and to get some much needed kicking-around in. 

It was a kickass 25 miles of...kickassness.  The weather was perfect, the sun was out, the trail was semi-soft from the recent downpours, but not wet, lots of dogs towards the end of the run.  Everything was clicking, and things felt great.  I wore my newest trail shoes, La Sportiva Quantums, for the entire run and they totally rocked.  I brought along my Sporty Cats just in case as figured I would need to change into them at the 16 mile mark (when we returned to the truck for a re-supply), but the Quantums were too busy blowing my mind!  Not a single hot spot, not a single complaint.  Very, very impressed.  We started a little late, and, judging by the large number of vehicles in the parking lot, figured we'd see a lot of folks on the trails, but we had it pretty much to ourselves for the first 16 miles.  Other than the lone hunter standing on the side of the Ice Age Trail, holding his shotgun across his chest as we ran by, staring up into the canopy above.  That was a little bit creepy...

Per tradition, we headed straight for the La Grange General Store for lunch afterward.  I was particularly jazzed about our run that day.  My legs didn't feel like I'd run anything until about mile 21, then it just felt like it usually does after our faster T10s.  Finishing up the run, and the rest of the day, I hardly felt like we had done anything.  Fresh as a daisy!  So that's a good thing and a bad thing...good because it means I'm adapting well and ready for more, and bad because it means I could have a) gone longer, or b) gone faster :)  In any event, the run was awesome!

After we shoveled our lunch, and traditional post-run brewsky, we headed down to Woodstock, IL to play in an apple orchard, gorge on apply pie, hot apply cider and hot cider donuts at All Seasons Orchard.  It was the perfect day for picking honey crisp apples.  After we bagged our booty, we hiked back to the orchard kitchen for more donuts before heading out to find the adorable town square in Woodstock.  Supposedly, Groundhog Day was filmed there...  We are suckers for really cute town squares :)  On a whim, we decided to duck into the local pub, Woodstock Public House, for some hot soup and people watching.  Everyone knew everyone, and they were all so darn happy!  Great way to finish off a great day.

It's Geoffrey Appleseed!  I caught him mid-pick...

Anywho, it was a successful Saturday!  And some of those honey crisp apples quickly became an apple crisp on Sunday.  Talk about success, if I do say so myself!

This week is my highest (non-race) mileage week for JJ100 training.  Last week I hit my highest weekly (non-race) mileage ever, and this week will top even that.  Lots of PRs this year, heh.  I'm pretty excited, and looking forward to a 32 miler on Saturday.  Next week is a step back week, followed by one more high mileage week (including a 50 mile race) before the taper begins.  Can you believe it, only 5.5 weeks left?  Where has time gone?!

The creeky-sore muscles have become the norm, and a thin veil of exhaustion has swept over me this week.  Signs of hard work :)  You know you're doing something when you wake up each morning having to shake out the rigor mortis in your lower half.  Next week's step-back will be welcomed with open arms, and lots of ice packs.

Paige, out.

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