Thursday, December 1, 2016

Big Butts Make the World Go 'Round

I only have myself to blame. 

"Never say never. Nothing is impossible..."

I had always viewed ultras as the one thing I would never do. I like long distance, but running one step beyond 26.2 miles? Nope.

However, after Christy and I had a delightful time strolling through the woods at the MS50 20k, and the Big Butts 100k advertised a 2-person relay option where each would run "only" 50k in increments of the team's choosing, I thought, "What the heck." As a team, we could alternate running the 10ish-mile loops (three times for each). And, for some reason, that just sounded so much more doable than running 50k consecutively.

One of the hallmarks of the Big Butts race is the
enormous pair of tighty whities in the swag bag.

So, I said to Christy, "Let's do it!" And she agreed.

Because training for a 50k during a Mississippi summer always sounds like a good idea.

By the time race day arrived, the venue had moved from the Butts Park mountain bike trails and the Choctaw cross-country course to the asphalt and sidewalks of the city of Jackson. The forecast had been for thunderstorms and somewhat cooler weather (and by "cooler," I mean low 90s), but the day dawned bright and sunny and temps at the 8:00 a.m. start were already in the 80s. 

After a fierce game of "rock-paper-scissors," I drew the first lap, and set off at the back of the pack, committed to sticking to my plan, knowing it was the only way I would finish. The plan was simple, born out of trying to train on hot, humid afternoons: run very slowly for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute. I carried Skratch in my water bottle that I sipped continuously and ate a gel about every 20 minutes. There was a well-stocked aid station about halfway through the loop, and I used that to refill.

I finished the first lap in just about 2 hours. Slow, yes, but I was nonetheless pleased with my pace. I had more than 20 more miles to go, and it was quickly turning into a very hot day with a "real feel" of over 100 degrees. 

While Christy was out on her first loop, I ate, drank, and changed clothes. Strategies, I am convinced, that really helped me get through the day. I had PB&J Uncrustables, Pringles, Coke, frozen Snickers. The race provided pickles, hot dogs, fruit, and lots of water. And I made sure I kept moving so I wouldn't get stiff.

Part of the race entry was diapers. It was like an inside joke.
The second loop started badly. I was worried. Maybe I wouldn't be able to finish. It was so hot. I got to the aid station and decided I needed to take a minute.

The volunteers were absolutely awesome! They were all running buddies, and they took care of anything we needed. They got water, food, and ice for me, and even texted Christy and Meg to let them know how I was doing. Truly, these events would not be possible without volunteers like them. 

After my minute (it might have been more like 10 or 15), I pulled myself together and mustered on. That second half of that second loop ended up being the best part of the whole day, I think. I managed to pick the pace up, it rained briefly, and I finished feeling pretty good.

Relatively, speaking.

Christy headed out, and I changed, ate, and drank to get ready for the last 10.4 miles. Our two middle loops were probably the hottest part of the day, so Christy struggled like I did, but made it back with plenty of time to spare, and then, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other for 2 more hours. Another friend, Ken, joined me on the last loop for moral support...and quite honestly, his continuous chatting was a welcome distraction.

I don't remember many of the details of that last loop. Not many people were left on the course. Most of the starters, both individual and teams, had dropped out at this point. Ken and I managed to catch up to and actually pass another couple of ladies on relay teams. We walked a bit more than I had on the previous two loops...anything that resembled a hill. Breezed through the aid station, chafing at the bit, wanting to get it done.

Christy and me all smiles before the start.
And then. It was done. I rounded the corner. About 11 hours after we started and nearly 7 hours of running, I got back to John's front door. No official "finish line." No medal. But a bunch of really cool people congratulating me for completing a 50k.

It was pretty awesome.

But...I think it's a one-and-done kinda thing for me. Never again.

Never say never...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016 Houston Marathon Race Report

I've discovered that I have a short attention span with training. Which is kind of a challenge since I like the long stuff: half marathons, half ironman, and, sometimes, marathons and ironman. But, invariably, after about 12 weeks of following the plan, putting in the miles, running around the track, and hitting the gym, I lose focus, and it all becomes...meh.

I had 14 weeks from the time I finished Ryanman in October 2015 to the Houston Marathon (has it really been almost a year?...yeesh, time flies!). My base was good. My miles were where they needed to be. I just needed to focus only on running for a while.

It was (mostly) awesome. For about 12 weeks, that is. Then, it was Christmas. I was in Florida visiting my folks. Twenty miles on a steamy, early Sunday morning ended up as a painful 11. Nothing else during vacation was longer than about 6 miles. Too many other things to do...including sleeping in.

So, for that reason, among others, I headed to Houston with some trepidation. Even though I had managed to get some good runs in, I was unsure I would be able to run the full distance. I already knew my original goal of a Boston Q-time was not going to happen (has a lot to do with those other reasons). The handy-dandy McMillan Calculator had me at what seemed like a reasonable goal. But I was afraid. Worried. Really didn't want to go. Needed another month at least...

Luckily, this was a group effort, and I had with me, two good friends. One who had been running by my side since the first day of training and would run with me for the entire 26.2, her goal, my goal; giving up any chance at her own PR and a much faster time to run with me. The other, coming to support us during the race, holding all of our junk, passing gels to us, taking awesome pictures along the course, and running his own marathon+ just as a spectator.

The people in my life. I am lucky. I am a lonely person. By choice. By character and personality. But I have a "tribe" (as Meg would say) that is there for me when I need them...even if I don't know that I need them. And to all of them, thank you.

Turns out Houston is a pretty cool city, and the Houston Marathon is a top-notch event. I prefer smaller races. Being in the midst of 40,000 people kinda' gives me hives, but if I am there, I am grateful for race organizers who set it up so it doesn't seem too intense.

Race-day weather was perfect. Temperatures were in the 40s at the start, the sun was out, and there was little to no wind. Despite the gazillion people on the course, there were only a couple of spots that felt congested. The course is friendly and flat. At every single point for 26.2 miles, there are spectators...lots of them...cheering everyone on.
Thanks, Perter and Meg, for these pics! And thanks Meg's friend for the sign!

As we made our way into our corral, it occurred to me that marathons have become an event and a journey for people...more than an actual race. People were in costume, taking selfies, taking pictures of the crowd, the helicopter overhead. The music was loud and energizing. The announcer was loud and energizing. This was probably good for my brain. "Hey! It's just a traveling party! No big deal. It might be 26.2 miles...but it's just a party."

TMI alert. But, for me, an essential part of the race story. My standard long race M.O. is to pee every 5 minutes leading to the actual start and then one more time within the first couple of miles. I've always attributed it to nerves. I remain calm on the outside. My bladder becomes overwrought. However, I'm not exactly sure what happened on January 17, 2016, but I ended up having to pop into a porta-john four different times. Four. I'm convinced my finish time would have been at least 10 minutes faster if I hadn't been quite so well hydrated.

After that, though, the rest of the race was uneventful, and we were able to speed up a bit for a negative split overall. One of Meg's friends was on the latter part of the course and had signs with our names on them, which was cool since she had never even met me. Then, near the end, Peter jumped in with us and ran the last few miles before breaking off so he could meet back up with us in the Convention Center. 

Right before the finish, in a rare moment of extreme clarity, I killed Peter's cows. Sorry, Peter. (See, on the drive west from Mississippi to Texas, Meg and Peter introduced me to a driving game called, "My Cows." I learned from them that you claim your cows as you see them grazing peacefully in the fields, trying to have more cows than everyone else. If you see a graveyard, you can "kill" your competitors' cows. If you see a church, you can "save" your cows. I saw a graveyard during the last part of the marathon, and I decided that was an excellent time to continue the game we had begun two days prior.)

We got our medals, our finishers' shirts, our finishers' mugs, got in the car, and Peter drove us back to Mississippi. 

And that's the story of marathon #21.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

One Year Later

I just looked back at my last blog post. It has been one year. One. Full. Year. 

So much has changed. Yet so much remains the same. 

Three months ago, I left Mississippi. It was time. As much as I really hated to leave a job I loved and all of the wonderful people I have the privilege to call friends, my need and, more than that, my obligation to be closer to family convinced me I had to stop delaying the decision.

So, here I am, in Jupiter, Florida. Fifty-two and living with the 'rents. Most of my material life is in storage in Mississippi. When I changed my insurance information, the representative asked me if I was "renting or buying." I asked if she had a category for "freeloading."

But it really is the perfect set up for the moment. I have a part-time job tutoring at a private school, so I have some income while I look for permanent full-time employment. Plus, the beach is only a 10-minute drive. 

And I can scoot over to Tampa to see my sister and brother and their kids for the weekend anytime I want (or anytime they'll have me). I'm so excited for dance recitals, soccer games, and cross-country and track meets. 

And I'm excited to get to know my family again.

What has not changed is I'm still that girl trying to find her place in the world. I'm still a runner (on hiatus from triathlon...I sold my bikes), and I still like juxtaposing the "great" and "deep" questions of life against my athletic endeavors. 

In any case, this blog will pick up again and continue as a personal memoir of sorts as I try to figure out whether I am at a crossroads or a dead end. So, stay tuned, as I do a little review of the past year, my marathon, my first (and likely only) ultra, and KC's newfound love for the beach.