Friday, June 5, 2015

Cayuga 50 Mile 2015: Stairway to a National Championship podium finish


Ithaca is gorges....never heard that one before.
So here I was again, back at Cayuga for the 3rd year in a row! I felt very fit speed-wise, but, coming off of very marathon specific training the entire season leading up to the race, I felt like my performance for a mountainous 50 miler with 12,000 ft of climbing was going to be a total gamble. This year, this one really felt like the odd ball on my race card, but I thought it would be fun to test how I would perform on race day with lower and more intense mileage. Plus the whole weekend camping at the state park and hanging out is pretty awesome.

So, since many people seem to be interested in how I trained, let me debrief you…

What I DID do in training:

·        I ran FAST – usually track intervals once a week.
·        Hard tempos – Sub-7 pace, flat, sometimes treadmill. 40 minutes tops.
·        Long fast runs on the road – Pretty much every weekend leading up to Boston. Ranged from 20-24 miles, averaging 7:30ish pace with a sub-7 pace finish.  
·        Short intense hills – Only did these for the 4 weeks leading up to the race after Boston. Repeats on a 0.3 mile steep one in White clay trails, some treadmill work (ladder repeats of increasing grade), stadium bleacher repeats.
·        I rested. If I went into an intense workout and wasn’t feeling it, I called it, took a day of light cross training, then went for it again a couple days later. It is always very hard for me not to finish something right then and there, but I found when I did this, I always nailed it the second time around.
·        I tapered. Not always good about this. But the thought of running 50 miles at this point when I had not run longer than 5 hours in 8 months scared the crap out of me. So I was making sure I went in well-rested.

What I did NOT do in training:
  •        Back-to-back long runs of any kind – I had always considered these to be the staple of my ultra training. Twenty plus mile long run followed the next day by a 20+ mile long run, usually both on trails. I did NONE of these leading up to Cayuga, at first to make sure I was focused enough on intensity for Boston, and then because I just didn’t have the time afterwards.
  •         Peak training week – This is a week or two about 3-4 weeks out where I usually amp up my mileage leading up to an event before a gradual taper. Nope, didn’t happen this year. I defended my dissertation proposal about 3 weeks out though and that did have my heart rate elevated for prolonged periods of time!
  •         Five-plus hour long runs. Nope. Didn’t happen.
  •         Two-a-days. Did not run 2xs per day very frequently. Maybe 1x per week versus my typical 3xs per week.

In total I was probably running 60-80 miles per week. I am not really sure because I have been really bad with logging mileage this entire season and infrequently wear a GPS watch. Typically I consider myself in good “ultra distance” shape when I am running 100ish miles per week. This race could be interesting!
Annual Finger Lakes road trip with my crew!


I typically do not do much research on the course or stalking of female opponents before a race. I had run the course last year so that was justification enough for my limited research, and I remembered the couple thousand stone stairs. I had read the IRF and someone else’s blog write-up on the “elite” field in the race so knew there were some fasties out there. My ultrarunner groupie friend Maggie always outlines these things in detail to me the days leading up to a race anyways J But knowing who else is going to show up never changes how I run a race, so I usually don’t spend much time researching.

After switching from our termite infested original cabin with my cabin-mate Amanda, from Oregon, I actually had a pretty good night’s sleep the night before with an early 4AM wake-up for the 6AM race start. It was a bit humid but about 60 degrees out, so couldn’t really ask for more ideal running conditions in May on the east coast. After doing some scrambling around for coffee in the morning, about 250 runners lined up at the start and at the sound of the bull horn we were off.
It’s almost comical how fast people take off in this race. I was probably 20 women back in the first mile. Maggie hung back with me and we ascended the first jeep road climb together. We ran up most of it, but pretty conservatively. My plan was to save the last half of my energy for the last 10 miles of the race. After the long gradual climb of about a mile, we turned onto a gravely path next to the water falls and started the first of our stair climbing. The stone steps were slick from the previous night’s rain, but the new Salomons I was wearing to test for Runners World actually had no issues with slipping, unlike many other people around me.
Through the water falls we go!  Lots of cameras on course. Photo credit to them.

After the first aid station, we entered the section of the few hundred steep stone steps descent. It almost hurt just running down these fast. We hit some smooth single track trail on this section and I was content to hang behind some guys in front of me. Especially when we hit the incredibly steep uphill switchback scramble that leaves me doubled over barely crawling at the top every year. There were guys down at the bottom and the top tracking your time on this climb for the KOM/QOM contest. I had no plans of going for that one. My legs were feeling decent but my stomach felt a little iffy for the first couple of hours, adding another reason for me not to push it. I worked on slowly taking in calories through my favorite Gatorade lemonade and gels and sucking on ginger chews. Maggie was also content to hang back with me and it was really nice having a friend to talk to during most of the first lap. It doesn’t happen too often.
Photo by crew photographer Auntie Ann

The loop is a lollipop out and back, so when we saw the lead guys zooming back towards us on the trail, I knew we must be about to enter the “pop” part. I think it was on the way back out of that small loop when there was a long gradual single track downhill, and when I found no one in front of me to yield me, I opened up and let myself speed down it a bit. I lost Maggie here temporarily, but she passed me again after I made a pit stop a mile or so later. After my pit stop my stop my stomach was actually feeling much better and I decided it was safe to pick up the pace just a little. After 20 miles, I finally felt warmed up to start the race!

It was about that time when we hit the steep stone steps climb, just before the last aid station. A few hundred 20 inch uneven stone steps. They seemed never ending. It sucked. I tried not to think about how I had to do them all over again in a few hours. Towards the end of that section, I finally caught back up with Maggie at an aid station, where my mom and aunt were doing an excellent job of switching out the bottles I was carrying in my vesta, and replenishing my gel supply. When we left the aid station, there was 3 miles to the turn around, and a pretty nice section with a good bit of downhill running. I pulled ahead a little bit here, but tried not to let myself get too carried away too soon.

I like taking my time at aid stations...
As I took the last left turn to start the jeep road downhill back to the start/finish, I passed Amanda running back towards me with a small group of guys behind her. I later calculated that she was about 22 minutes ahead of me. A couple minutes later I saw the 2nd woman and then towards the bottom of the hill saw 3rd followed by a few other women. I didn’t wear a GPS and had not looked at my wrist watch all day until now. But when I saw the running clock coming into my second loop, I almost couldn’t believe that I finished the first 25 miles in 4:15. I was fully expecting to come into the first lap in the 4:30’s. Last year I crossed this point in 4:22. And I felt like I took things even more conservative and felt even better than last year at this point. That also meant that almost every one of the 6 women infront of me was on pace to break the former Olympian marathoner Magdalenda’s 8:22 course record from last year. I thought that maybe a couple of them might come in under that time, but there was no way that 6 of them were going to, so I knew I could catch most of them. I was not going to slow down :- )
Through the turn around. Let's do it again!

Feeling better plus seeing my half split gave me a boost and I picked up the pace on the second lap, especially on the descents. With no one in front of me and no real reason to hold back, I started tearing up some downhill around mile 30, legs feeling great. I tried to maintain similar consistent pace and effort on the sustained climbs that I did the first lap. My legs were felt great and I knew hammering hills and bleachers for the past few weeks was paying off right now. Around this point I passed three women in pretty close synchrony, and was not too concerned about them catching me again. Then, soon after, and to my surprise, a course volunteer told me that 2nd place was only a minute in front of me. When I saw her I reeled her in pretty quickly, so was confident that I could maintain my position. She told me that first place was not too far ahead of me and encouraged me to catch her, but based on what I saw at the top of the turn around, she was mistaken. I wasn’t too concerned about catching anyone though. I was very excited to feel this strong at this point in the race and picking my way up to 2nd place was just an added bonus. My new goal was actually to negative split this loop and I knew I was on track to do so.

I clicked through the next several miles pretty smoothly and uneventfully. I was passing lots of guys at this point, a couple of them trying to hang with me for a couple minutes and eventually dropping off. It was nice to be running back towards other runners behind you because they were usually smiling and encouraging. The trail was single track, in most parts, but generally lended itself well for passing without having to bush whack. Things were a little more muddy on this lap, but honestly, the mud was not too bad, especially compared to previous years. Coming into the 2nd to last aid station (this is how I track my mileage) my mom told me that the 1st woman was 14 minutes ahead of me.

I thought I was staying on top of taking in calories, but sometime before the last aid station I realized I had gone about 45 minutes without calories, and realized my fluids were dry. This was right about the same time I hit those few hundred Lucifer stone steps. Bad move. About halfway up those stairs, and for the first time all day, I felt really drained and kind of dizzy. I knew I slowed down substantially, and it was all I could do to keep clawing my way up those stairs. Quite literally, I was grabbing into the stone wall on the side of the stairs and pulling myself up with my arms at times. When I finally got to the top, it took me a couple of minutes to really get into rhythm again. I thought the aid station was coming about 15-20 minutes before it actually did too, which made running dry on water a bit more miserable. But I finally got to it, and the time on my watch was 8 hours flat, so I knew a negative split was probably just out of reach.
Tried to make it, but still a 2.5 minute positive split. Stupid stairs. 
I didn’t dawdle too long there, but I did gulp down some Gatorade and a last gel that almost immediately boosted my energy levels for the last 3 miles. These last miles had some stairs, but mostly descents and downhill. I would like to say I spent the next two miles taking in the beautiful sights of the Finger Lakes and waterfalls, but I was really looking for that final left turn onto the mile of downhill jeep road. When I finally came to the turn and looked at my watch, I was in the 8:20’s and was just ecstatic that I was about to blow my last year time (8:57) out of the water!  
I barreled down the final hill and across the park lawn to finish in 8:33, and 24 minutes faster than my last year time when I considered myself in really good shape, and about 40+ minutes off my time from two years ago on an easier course with less climbing. Also, the added bonuses of 2nd place female in a USATF National Championship race and some cash prize money were also pretty sweet J

50 miles is a long ways to run.
Look who showed up at the finish line!

I was also apparently important enough for Ultra Sports Live to request an on-camera interview with my half-delirious self after the race. But there was no way I was putting down that Flower Power IPA. Check out my awkwardness

What’s next…. Oil Creek 100 mile in October. Yikes! And I thought 50 miles was a long ways to run...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The shortest farthest run of my life: Labor Pains 12 Hour Race 2014

I have to admit that I was not looking forward to this year’s race. Jeff and I had just returned from Oregon where I had put in a 150 mile week of mountain running just a week prior to Labor Pains and I had not really had a single good run all week since then leading up to the race. Also on the back of my mind was one of our tough training runs the last Friday in Oregon, just 9 days before Labor pains. We ran around the volcano Mt Hood, an gnarly grueling 42 miles that took us over 12 hours to complete, and I really tanked in the very last mile of the run before realizing that I had forgotten to eat anything and drink much for the last 3.5 hours, plus the Waldo 100K from 6 days before THAT had caught up with me a bit and my legs just felt overall dead after that trip. Though painful at the time, the Mt Hood training run did serve as a reminder I needed to take care of myself more out on the trails and convinced me that I needed a bit more rest than usual this week leading up to Labor Pains. Regardless, I was more nervous going into this year’s race than I had been last year, feeling more unprepared, knowing I had an expectation of myself to do just as well as I had last year when I had set the course record being in really good shape at the time so that I could prove to myself that I was just as ready for Grindstone now as I was last year. But really, I was almost dreading the thought of running for 12 hours at the time. 

Team Jackie captain reporting for 12 hours of crewing duties!
Despite being a bit run down from Oregon training, going into the race this year I knew my mistakes from last year, the same mistakes I had made at Mt Hood, and the mistakes I was already determined not to make today. I needed to take care of myself. Make sure that I was eating and drinking all day and not getting caught up in the hype with running too fast at the start. Really this stuff seemed like such common sense for attempting to run any ultra and it’s almost shocking that I actually keep needing real-life scenario reminders about it, but apparently I do! 

So there we were, this time Jeff and I standing together at the starting line of the race where we had met just one year before. The celebration of the anniversary took a little edge off the pre race nervesJ Just like last year, a large herd of jackrabbits took off at the start of the race, including several women. Jeff hung back with me and we both laughed at how fast some took off, especially since there was no relay team this year. Even though I had not run the course since the race last year, every section on that 5 mile loop was engrained in my mind from running around it 13 times. I had a pretty good idea of all the hills I wanted to walk up, and when we came to the first short steep grassy uphill in the first half mile of the race, I was the only runner in sight who walked. Even Jeff didn’t stop and pulled ahead of me a bit, slowing at the top to wait for me. It didn’t feel good to have people passing me like that so early in the race, to see so many people ahead of me that I knew I could catch, but today I was racing no one but myself. I knew exactly what I had to do to get what I wanted and I didn’t let myself get caught up in the race hype.

All year leading up to this year’s race I had a goal of running 70 miles here this year. I knew that I really died last year while I dug myself into a deeper and deeper hole of dehydration and caloric deficit and was forced to slow down a lot in the end and I also knew that if I had finished 65 miles just 12-15 minutes earlier, then I would have had time for another 5 mile loop. We calculated that I would have to run each lap in 51:22 if I wanted to get in 70 miles within the 12 hours. I wanted to give myself a bit of a cushion for the end and any unanticipated stops so my plan was to run each lap in just over 50 minutes. And no faster! So I found myself coming into the first lap in just under 50 minutes. Well, close enough.
Jeff leads the final uphill grunt at the end of the first loop with me clawing at the dirt behind him.
 Jeff and I ran the first lap and most of the second lap together (I left the aid station before him but he caught up to me when I made a pit stop on the 2nd). It was fun to reminisce on our initial meeting on my favorite section of the course, a slightly rocky and gradual straight downhill section. This section was nice for a couple reasons… it’s my favorite type of terrain and one that I can still generally run fast on even with tired legs, it signified we were about 10 minutes out form the close of the loop and, of course, on every lap I could think about Jeff and I meeting then and how far we have come together in just one year.

At the start of the third lap Jeff had dropped back at the aid station and I knew that this would likely be the start of the rest of the day running solo, aside from my mom pacing me for whatever fractions of the laps she could. I was ok with it. I settled into my rhythm and started feeling really good. I could tell that I wasn’t exactly fresh, but I just put myself on autopilot and let myself cruise. For the first 30 miles I never got hungry, but felt like I could eat something solid, so slowly chewed down a couple Cliff bars over a couple laps. Then the food started getting a little dicey in terms of what I felt like would agree with me, so Gatorade, gels and ginger chews it was for the rest of the day. Yum (except probably not so good for my teeth!)

Before I knew it, I had hit the “halfway point” of my goal distance at 35 miles at 5:50. Perfect. This meant I had a bit of time to spare at the end of the race for a few inevitable stops that were coming (i.e. bathroom). My dad, mom and aunt were crewing for me at the start/finish of the lap all day and made it easy and quick for me to get food and swap out handheld water bottles filled with Gatorade.
If I had a hard lap all day, it was probably the next one, from miles 35-40. It is that just over halfway point, but not close enough to the finish yet to feel like you are going downhill into it yet ( I still had 5.5 hours to go). That JUST over halfway point has always been the interval number during a track workout that I hate the worst. I had also been running solo now for what felt like a long time (about 25 miles). My mom had started the lap with me but had fallen back within the first mile and a part of me wanted to stop and wait for her. Perhaps it was a little psychological that I felt this lap was just a little bit harder. But I stayed steady and even with my splits and  when I hit 40 miles and knew that I had less than a 50K to go, it was the first time all day when I had really convinced myself I am going to do this today! 50Ks are short and fast and I felt like I had barely run! On top of that, it has started pouring rain, which actually felt really good in the humidity of the day. Feeling that good physically at 40 miles and having that new found confidence in myself was really was an amazing feeling. It was really mostly downhill after my “50K to go” milestone. 

Somewhere between miles 40 and 50 I passed two runners who warned me about an “escaped convict” on the trail. I thought they were joking, until they reassured me that they were not kidding. Convicts had been doing roadwork locally and one had escaped and was seen running through the woods in an orange jumpsuit. Yikes. At the halfway point aid station, I asked the people there about it to confirm because I had been looking around in the woods all paranoid for a mile. No, they told me that the “convict” was actually a runner in costume! Well good thing I asked, because I came up beind the guy running in an orange jump suit a few minutes after the aid station and if I had not known he was a runner, I might have ran back towards that aid station! I ran past him to find the RD sitting with a police officer at the next road crossing. Though puzzled at the time, apparently the guy had caused some kind of ruckus because the firetower called him in and the police had shown up threatening to shut down the race to find him. My aunt said afterwards that she is pretty sure they would have had to taser me to stop me from running that race though. Glad it didn’t happen!
Mom ready to pace, me gulping down more water into my very hydrated Gatorade/water belly.

Three laps to go (mile 55) and I was getting a bit tired, though not the kind of tired that I really feared that I was going to crash and burn for the rest of the race. Though I kept reminding myself that for just running 55 miles, I actually felt pretty freakin good! When I thoughts of time kept creeping into my mind about exactly how long I had been running, I refused to think about it anymore and quickly pushed the thoughts out of my mind. When three more laps because too tiring of a thought, I broke it down in my mind. At four laps to go, really I had only the rest of this lap, which was nothing, and one more lap. The lap after that lap (the 3rd to last lap) would be considered my victory lap (2nd to last lap). Afterall that is all I needed to do to break my own course record and that would be a good day. Even though I knew in my heart that there would also be one lap after that, we’ll call it the glory lap. Of course now it seems like a ridiculous and confusing way to tick down my miles, but the mental game was working for me so that’s how it stayed broken down in my mind. Actually, in thinking about the race this way, I had no idea how many miles, what lap I was on or how much time was on the clock when random people on the course and at the middle water station would ask me. So when asked I would usually be caught off guard and have to resist talking in “laps to go” language and usually just said something like “Ummm I don’t really know.”
Still raining out there made things a bit slick and muddy on the trails, but I was still moving pretty quickly!
 All day I really only knew how long the clock was running when I came through the aid station at the end of each lap. Otherwise, I was stopping and restarting my stopwatch at the beginning/end of every lap. The only time I let myself know was the time of the lap for consistency. I would only look at my watch at specific landmarks on the loop which let me know if I was ahead or behind pace. All day I was hitting all landmarks within a minute of each other. Sometimes I would fall up to a minute behind at a landmark that had to be near mile 2 and was after a longer gradual uphill that I would run mostly up, and I could tell towards the later laps that my uphill running was slowing a bit. But after that landmark, I was hitting all other landmarks (water station, last big climb, last road section…) with dead on consistency, which was encouraging. 

I came though mile 65 with 10:59 on the clock, which is 23 minutes faster than I had run it last year, and feeling 100 times better than I had last year. There was absolutely no question in my mind (unlike what I had been telling myself to get me to this point!) that I was going to run 70 miles today, the absolute farthest distance in miles that I have ever run in my life. There was something different about that last lap that made it special from all the others. At mile into the lap, I knew I had hit mile 66, which was “officially” the farther I have ever run and it just all felt too easy. I felt great. I felt like I could run another 30 miles right then and there. I was determined to run this whole entire lap feeling this way and cross the finish line feeling just the same. Dusk was just settling in on the trail and I was alone out on the trail. The crickets were starting to come out and a bright orange glow blazed brightly through the trees. I enjoyed every step of the peaceful tranquility of that trail, which was something I never thought I could say about the end of a 70 mile run. And I did come through that finish line still feeling like I thought I could run another 30 miles. Seventy miles, 11:52 and new female course record. Also, I was apparently only 25 minutes behind ultrarunning lengend Jimmy Blandford, and came in 2nd place overall, which I will take any day!
It felt great to set the record, and even better knowing that it was my own record from what I had considered to be a really good race last year at the time. I am as ready for Grindstone now as I will ever be, given the Labor Pains trails are not exactly “Grindstone material,” all I can do is see what the adventure will bring. So bring on the big triple digits!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Cat Card: it's just not worth it.

I think I originally got myself into Catoctin because it was one of those races that I heard nightmare stories about over and over again…the heat, the rocks, the hills, the getting lost. And each time I would just think to’s a 50K. It can’t be THAT bad. Wrong. So wrong.  

I came into Catoctin this year feeling prepared. This was one of Jeff’s favorite races, and so was Hyner. And I loved Hyner. So even though Jeff told me I would probably hate it, I ignored him and thought it would be fun. Plus it was right where I grew up, an extra bonus, right? I had not really tapered for the event, but I felt like I was training pretty solidly and in pretty good shape overall so should not be an issue. Jeff and I camped out the night before with Gary Bowman and Cassandra, all of us running the race the next morning.

Prep on race morning seemed to go well enough. I treated myself to a black coffee from Starbucks in Frederick and I could feel that pleasantly buzzing through my bloodstream during the pre-race meeting. I decided to play the hydration for the day a little risky,  just taking a single 20oz handheld with me, as Jeff had recommended but naturally against every other sane person’s advice for this race. 

The race started at the top of a small Middletown mountain just 3 miles down the road from my dad’s business. Despite this, I had never actually run on this trail before (and I was about to find out why) And before anyone even know the pre race briefing from the RD was over, we were off.
The first part of the race, after running around the parking lot once, goes straight down the rocky decent of the mountain. The course is an out and back, so I took note that it would end with a climb up a mountain. The grade of the first decent was actually nice for running and not too steep, but the rocks made it difficult to move too fast. Still this was nothing I couldn’t handle and I started passing a number of people getting hung up on the rocks, blazing my path down the trail. Maybe it helped that I stuck with Jeff, the expert rocky downhill trail blazer, for the first few miles along with Henry Peck’s daughter, Kaylyn, who I was meeting for the first time, but who sprained her ankle within the first 20 minutes and dropped back. 

As the trail went on though, the rocks got worse. Soon, we could no longer blaze our way around the rocks in the trail because entire sections of the trail were nothing but rocks. So this turned into a rock hopping game of who could jump and hop through rocks the fastest. As it turns out, if the name of the game is flat or downhill bouldering, I am not the greatest. But soon we came to a pretty long climb that was steep in some sections and I made up some distance on those who left me behind before (including Jeff!). 
Of course they would put the camera man on the only 1/10th of a mile section of the course without rocks.

I made sure that I was very attentive in looking for the light blue blazes (almost looking white at times) marking the trees of the course. None of the course is marked and you have to follow the not-always-easy-to-follow blue blazes to stay on course, which is how a lot of people get lost in this race. And running it I could see why. You had to constantly be looking down at the trail with all the rocks and each time you looked up, you risked taking a face plant into rocks. But if you didn’t look up you could easily go off course. Somehow I was managing to multi-task this though and even called back a couple guys I saw ahead of me running who missed turns a couple of times.

After the one climb I had pulled away from Jeff and I started running with a girl named Bethany who had been close by the whole time. I think we were 3rd and 4th woman at the time. She was in VHTRC and a really strong runner, and way better than me at handling the sections of rock hopping. Nonetheless, we hung together for a couple miles until I had to stop for a minute to pee and she skipped ahead. When I was back on the trail Jeff had caught up with me again and we ran together again for a mile or so, into the next aid station. The downside to carrying a single handheld on a hot day was that I had to stop at every aid station to fill up (which I normally don’t do in a 50K). But still I just have been in and out of there pretty quickly because Jeff was still hanging out at the aid station when I left. 

I ran the next few miles solo until I called another guy back to the course who I saw miss a turn. We ran together for a mile or so until the course finally got to a point where the rocks seemed to disperse a bit for the first time all day. Here I actually felt like I could open up and run fast, so I picked up the pace a little bit. Apparently I let down my guard a bit too much because just minutes after I had settled into a rhythm for the first time all day, my left ankle suddenly gave-way from under me, snapped inwards and I felt a really unsettling pop quickly followed by a lightning bolt of pain that shot from the outside of my ankle through my entire lower leg. Didn’t feel good. My immediate reaction (after quickly considering if I had broken a bone) was to keep running. Spraining my ankle is nothing new to me and actually it probably happens every few weeks or so, so the popping and pain feeling is sadly familiar, though this particular one felt a bit worse than usual. But when I tried to continue on, running didn’t work this time and for the next few minutes I was forced to limp and hobble over more rocks along the trail. Ugh. Being forced to walk bothered me more than the pain. Numerous people passed me here but after a few minutes though I was finally able to run again with just some soreness in the ankle that gradually dwindled with every step. Yay, the race was still on!
I actually thought that Jeff was going to pass me when I was walking, but he never caught up so I was on my own again. Luckily for me and my freshly twisted ankle (HAH!) the next section got pretty rocky again. Needless to say, was forced to take things pretty conservatively here. I met another trail friend and ran with him until the turn around. “Man, you are moving!” he told me. I had to think that this guy couldn’t be serious because with all this rock hopping I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere fast today. We hit the last aid station together and it was two miles downhill into the turn around. This part was rocky, but less so than other parts of the course, so I still felt like I could safely get a little speed going down here. 

Those two miles of downhill were pretty fun. I anticipated seeing the leading guys coming back towards me a lot sooner than I did, but towards the bottom of the mountain I saw them charging back up it. I also took note that there were 3 women ahead of me, with Bethany in the lead now and only a couple minutes ahead of me. We actually ran into each other going through the creek crossing just before the aid station at the bottom.

Dad being crew at the halfway point.

I saw my parent’s for the first and only time on the course all day (crews were not allowed anyplace else in this one). They refilled my bottle while I gulped down some Coke and quickly headed back out again up the mountain. The climb was not nearly as bad as it was talked up to me. Actually, I found I could essentially run the entire thing, as the grade was long and constant, but relatively shallow, with a level of rockiness that still allowed for running. I felt really strong going up that climb and thought I was ready to start kicking up a few gears for the day. I passed one girl within a few minutes.  I saw Jeff coming back towards me too, still looking good, and some other friends who cheered words of encouragement to me. People started telling me that I was 2nd female, which was a little perplexing as I had only remembered passing one girl and I thought there were three ahead of me. Maybe the other one fell and got buried in all the rocks? A few minutes later, I started seeing Bethany up ahead around every corner and at the crest of every long stretch of climb. I knew she couldn’t be more than a minute ahead of me. 

Just after reaching the top of the climb and going through the next aid station the trail leveled off again and I started picking up some speed. I felt great and was pushing the pace strongly.  Then, out of nowhere, a bee flew out of into the corner of my right eye and before I could react, a felt the sting that ripped through my eye and soon the entire right side of my face. GAHHHHHH!!! I swatted it away but not soon enough. Well that was a first. It hurt like hell but I kept running, maybe even faster, pretty much just squinting to see out of one eye (which was also not very conducive to rock running) The sting was lingering and I desperately wanted something cold to put on it and since the only thing I had was a waterbottle full of Gatorade, I started squirting that into my eye. Desparate times….but despite my seemingly horrific appearance, my friends running back towards me on the trail were still cheering for me, saying something about being right behind first woman, and this really encouraged me to get over myself and push on.

So I had gotten over the ankle, I had gotten over the bee, and I was doing just fine with the occasional spray of Gatorade into my eye. Ten minutes later my eyes were getting a little sticky and it was kind of hard to see while I was squirting the Gatorade, so I will partly attribute ankle sprain #2 to this (hah!). Honestly I don’t even remember how it happened, but I was rock hopping some awful section when there it was, ankle snapping in and that bolt of pain. So I was forced to walk again for a few minutes, though this time was not as bad as the first one and I was able to run again a little quicker.
So, after all this happening, people running towards me were STILL telling me that I was less than two minutes behind. Now I don’t know how accurate this was, but it seemed legit at the time coming from multiple people and it gave me encouragement to keep things up. So I got through those obstacles, but what came next would be totally debilitating. 

I was negotiating a long stretch of particularly rock section when I felt the tightness in my left quad near my knee start of come on that was quickly followed by intense pain. It came on without any type of warning and on first instinct I had no idea what it could be. What IS that?!? But I quickly realized (thanks to my amazing doctor of PT skills!!) that this pain and tightness must be a muscle cramp. But I have NEVER had a muscle cramp in my life! Why would I be suddenly getting one now?? Because it’s Catoctin. I kept running on it and it only got worse and fast. Soon the sharp pain that started in my quad near my knee was searing up the entire front of my thigh and into my hip. I had lost full range of motion of my leg and even though I was still “running” my gait must have looked pretty ugly. My quad became so tight I couldn’t bend my knee all the way, which made running and lunging over rocks particularly difficult. Soon I had to do everything with just the working leg. I stopped a couple times to try and stretch it, to palpate and massage the muscle. (I even thought it could be referred pain from my hip, but in some quick self hip testing, nothing I could do to my hip could further provoke or alleviate my leg symptoms). Stretching seemed to provide some relief during the actual stretch, but stopping and starting running again hurt even worse so soon I just nixed the whole idea. When I felt my quad, the entire thing felt seized up in a knot so tight I had to forcibly stretch my leg back using both arms. Still, I ran (limped?) on. Muscle cramps go away with time, right??? Wrong again.

In all this I still managed to stay very diligent about following the trail blazes, which was a miracle because it gets increasingly difficult to pay attention to the trail when your entire leg feels like it’s about to fall off. I did pass a couple of signs, one that indicated that the park we started in was 9 miles away. If I had to run another 9 miles on this leg, there was no way I could finish this race. Meanwhile, the rocks kept coming. And coming. And coming. Each time a nasty patch came, which was probably 3 times per minute I would silently (and then not so silently) curse those rocks as I painfully hobbled over with one working leg. 

Somehow I made it to the next aid and last aid station alive. Over the past couple miles I felt like I was been moving at a sloths pace and my leg cramp had gotten so bad that I was seriously considering dropping at this point. But when I jogged into that aid station I was greeting with cheers from the volunteers and my friend Gray, who was working the aid station ran up to me and told me that I was just 2 minutes behind Bethany. How is that even possible??? I just plain didn’t believe it. Besides, I no longer cared about my pace in the race or my finishing time. But I just didn’t have the heart to drop out. Ok, and I also didn’t have a ride or a phone. So after giving Gray what must have been the saddest hopeless look of desperation, I left the aid station and “jogged” (aka hobbled over rocks) it in for the next 6-7 miles. 

That last stretch was pretty painful and miserable. Despite still moving at the sloth’s pace, I still managed to pass a few guys (although having one working leg looked like that would be the least of their issues…). The trail went down a particularly steep rocky decent and in my rock hopping, at one point I apparently felt too confident and hopped onto my left leg, expecting it to support the weight of my body as it has done my entire life, only to have it completely give out underneath me and slam me straight into a tree. Ouch. I had to pause for a few seconds and just laugh at just how well this race was going for me.

I think the only reason I actually ran up most of that last climb was because every time I slowed down the midday horse flies that had started coming out would start biting me. I finished the last climb and thought I might not have ever been more happy to see a piece of duct tape slapped on some hot asphalt parking lot that signified the finish line in my life.

Somehow I still managed to finish in 5:53, which was still under my pre-set goal time of sub 6 hours and also still managed to hold on my 2nd place (though only because it was pretty much uncontested). The post-race finish line party was a great time and I had a great time, minus the last 3 hours of the race. But I am confident that I can say that Catoctin 50K was probably the worst race of my running career to date and I hope it stays that way. Therefore, if I do come back to this rock fest next year it will be to SPECTATE (and drink beer at the finish line) ONLY and make fun of Jeff while he is having so much fun in all his misery at his “favorite” race.  Some people like running over piles of rocks for 6 hours. I do not. 

Jeff had a great time at Catoctin, by the way. 
The Cat Card. NOT WORTH IT.
 Of course the whole thing was worth it because I got this awesome envied laminated Cat-Card for finishing! Hmmmmm...

Ok so not EVERYTHING went wrong.  There were a few things that went right
1.  Stomach. No issues all day. For me, that is pretty amazing. And I will be keeping Trader Joe’s ginger people chews in business for the rest of my days. 
2.  Fitness. I felt great coming up and down every climb and downhill (pre-quad spasm).
3.  Post race party. Double IPAs never tasted so good.