So Here We Are Again

I promised myself after the 2013 Rock ‘n Roll USA Half Marathon that I’d never again run a Rock ‘n Roll race in DC. It’s pretty much the grimiest, most corporate race series around, not to mention too crowded and understaffed.

Fast forward to late 2014. I’ve just finished the JFK 50 Miler (Do I think running a 50 miler makes me special? I’d love to say no, but the distance magnets on the back of my car would probably give me away.) and in a rush of good feeling (RUNNING IS AWESOME, MUST RUN ALL THE RACES!) I signed up for the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon. So here we are again. Below is a frankly pretty lousy snapshot of some of the gear I’ll be wearing or leaving in my car tomorrow. (I don’t think you need to see my underwear, we’re not that close yet, Internet.)

IMG_7080

The waterproof phone arm band setup is pretty unique, as is my preference for Gold Bond Friction Defense over BodyGlide (that stuff is so sticky and so expensive — not everything sold at running specialty stores is better!), so I might post more in-depth about those at some point, but now I just need to hop in bed since I’ve got an early start tomorrow. Oh how I long for low-key races!

Don’t Call It a Comeback…

After an extremely full race calendar in 2013, I was pretty burnt out on running. Three marathons plus a half marathon in 27 days can do that to a person, no kidding! I was over stressing about the logistics of getting to dozens of packet pickups and then to dozens of starting lines, so I pared my race schedule back a lot to focus on quality performances rather than further straining the screws on my medal rack. This year I crushed my estimated time in the Four Courts Four Miler, ran the Runners Marathon of Reston in March for an age group win, came in first in my age group across both genders at the Big Sur 21 Miler, notched a surprise 11th place in my age group at the Marine Corps Historic Half, and logged a finish at the Marine Corps Marathon. I’ll finish the year out with less than ten total races, but I’m proud of my efforts, especially my most recent run: the JFK 50 Mile Race.

After winning my age group at the Runners Marathon of Reston, on a frigid day complete with sleet, I found that I’d met the A-level qualifying standards for the JFK 50 Mile Race. I’d held third place female for about 21 miles of the RMR and was thinking that actually qualifying for Boston wasn’t out of the question — basically, I was feeling pretty cocky. Cocky enough to dash off a $210 check to the JFK race director (the race is so old school that all entries are done via paper forms) and anxiously await the appearance of my name in the confirmed entrants list.

Fast forward about seven months and reality is hitting me like a ton of bricks. The race starts in view of a cell tower on top of a mountain. We had to run to the top of that mountain, then run back down it again, traversing miles of treacherous rocks and narrow switchbacks. One runner had the misfortune to bash his head badly enough on the rocks to end his race day — he had to be carried out, leaving plenty of blood behind. This was a guy whose name people knew, presumably an experienced ultra runner. I’d never run past 26.2. *Gulp*

Keeping my mental game tight was the most important thing. The human body is indeed fragile, but it can be pushed hard, beyond arbitrary limits we set ourselves. I couldn’t allow myself to get defeated by the staggering number of miles ahead of me, the cold, or the prospect of further pain in my legs/feet/back. I was determined that I was going to finish the race — anything else would be unacceptable — so I put all of my efforts into making it so. And believe me, it took everything I had.

The temperature at the start was a bracing 18 degrees Farenheit. I dressed in two pairs of tights, arm warmers, a long sleeve T shirt, a short sleeve T shirt, and a half-zip pullover. Before the marathon point, I got hot, and had to sit down to take my shoes off and shed one pair of tights. My animal brain said, “Wouldn’t it be better to just sit here? No need to get back up and run any more.” But I got up and kept going. I had to sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” all of the way through (and then some) to get myself to the next spectator aid station (a HUGE thank you goes out to my friend Kim who came to the start to get my gear bag, distracted me when I was nervous, took great pictures, supported me at each aid station, and made a hilarious sign for me), but I made it. Around the 30 mile point I hit upon the idea of alternating running and walking each quarter mile. My dad works with a guy who recently swam the English Channel (much tougher than a 50 mile ultra!) and he imparted this tip: break it down into sections, and focus on the next section. There were a lot of quarter mile sections in the remaining 20 or so miles, but I didn’t focus on that. I focused on each individual quarter mile as it came. I’m always up for running a quarter mile! A quarter mile isn’t bad, isn’t that long at all! As much as I wanted to follow the advice, “if it hurts to walk, and it also hurts to run, run,” I knew that the prospect of running another 20 miles was too much to grapple with mentally. A quarter mile was a perfectly digestible chunk: so doable that I found myself grinning, chatting with other runners, and offering words of motivation since I was so comfortable in my knowledge that I’d finish the race. That’s when it really became fun. I kept up the alternating cycle until my Garmin died between miles 48 and 49 and I decided to just walk so as to save a little something for the finish line approach.

I’d thought for sure that I’d cry in despair during the race, or cry with joy at the finish. Neither happened. I smiled throughout the race (not faked for the photos below!) and danced at the finish.

IMG_6058.JPG
First spectator aid station, near the half marathon point.

IMG_6055.JPG

IMG_6057.JPG
I don’t know where on the course those were shot, either the ~marathon point or 38 mile aid stations. With few exceptions, the tow path miles all looked the same: boring.

IMG_6056.JPG
At the mile 46 aid station I refused to stop or slow down for a photo.

IMG_6054.JPG
The hardware

I expect this post will spawn a couple others if only due to this one amazing fact: I finished the JFK 50 Mile Race with no blisters and no chafing. You read that right. Perfect outfit, perfect sock + shoe combination, perfect application of anti-chafe cream. Apparently perfect nutrition/preemptive use of Immodium, too, as I had no GI issues either. I showed up at the race with a full gear bag and took nothing from it on the course — I just gave Kim clothes I no longer wanted to wear. I eschewed my stiff, frozen Clif Shot Bloks and Salted Caramel Gu (the only good flavor, as far as I’m concerned) for eight cream-filled cookies and and a PB&J sandwich. I learned some lessons about the Hoka One One Clifton in the Marine Corps Marathon which I carried over into JFK that helped me tremendously in terms of avoiding discomfort, so I think I can write an informed review. So be on the lookout for more posts, but don’t try to hold me accountable, I might go dark for another six months!

Remember How I Said I Wanted to Run Sub-32:00 for My 4-Mile Race?

Well I ran 28:07, good enough for 78th place overall (out of 1508, I think), 15th overall female, and 6th in my age group. Really surprised myself!

The second to last hill was the toughest part of the race, as I knew it would be. I felt gassed and like I was breathing and breathing and getting no oxygen. But I stayed calm and pushed through. That final mile was my slowest of the race by far, but I lost a lot less time on that hill than I’d feared I would.

For almost the entire race I ran with a guy I didn’t know who looked to be about 55 years old, possibly current or former military. If he got a little behind me on a hill, he’d be sure to catch up; if I got a little behind him on a straightaway I’d increase my speed to match his. When we saw the huge crowd of runners on our way back from the turnaround point, he made a friendly comment about that. We paced each other without discussing it. I didn’t look at my watch until after I’d crossed the finish line, so I didn’t know what kind of pace we were maintaining. I knew it was challenging, but I didn’t know if it was sub-8:00, especially given how rough the fourth-mile hill was.

Well, it turns out that randomly latching into someone who wasn’t all freaky competitive worked out pretty well; I suspect we both helped each other.

I was bowled over by how fast I ran, especially considering how unsure I was that I’d meet my sub-32:00 goal. I dropped nearly 8:00 from my 2013 time of 36:01. Very proud of my effort and very appreciative of my dedication to my 50k training. This really motivates me to get out of bed each morning and hit my workouts hard so they continue to pay dividends.

I’ll sign off with a quote from the US President who I thought was hunkiest when I was a kid, Calvin Coolidge, that I think speaks to the importance of training:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrehearsed genius is almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.